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By Philip Kan Gotanda

Download the Working Script Here:

Pool of Unknown Wonders



YOHEN, The Robey Theatre Company and East West Players’ Production


The original draft of YOHEN was written quite a few years ago.  It was inspired by research I was doing at the time on the topic of Japanese War Brides, and, the desire to write a theatrical response to my play THE WASH which turned on the wife’s final decision, as opposed to the husband’s, at the end.  With the initial writing of YOHEN, I was enthused about the possibilities for the piece.  Issues of cultural intersection expanded the world of my usual themes. However, after submitting the draft to the commissioning theater I received only a form letter stating they had no interest.  Though never stated, I had the impression it was because of the nature of the material - a Black and Japanese interracial marriage.   Perhaps it was the time, when the racial dialogue was still exclusively Black and White and didn’t include an African American-Japanese American story in this company’s vision of theater.

I put the piece away and began to work on other things.   And yet YOHEN, in an always unexpected manner, would surface.  I had a director acquaintance who had shown the piece to the actor, Danny Glover, who became intrigued by the interracial take on family.   My friend, the late actress Nobu McCarthy, was in town so we arranged an informal reading at the house with Danny and Nobu.   It went well and there was excitement about  what we might do with the piece.  Avenues didn’t open readily and people became otherwise engaged.  YOHEN fell to the way side.   It surfaced next as a reading at ACT in San Francisco during Joy Carlin’s tenure as Artistic Director, with Nobu and Stephen Anthony Jones reading this time.   We discussed its future, Stephen being particularly enthusiastic, then it once again was set aside.   A few years later, we workshopped it at Berkeley Repertory - two times I believe - and it was  announced as part of their upcoming season.  Because of my reservations about the piece not being quite right yet, Tony Taccone honored my wishes and withdrew it from the season.   Then a year or so later Danny Glover returned to the picture.  I got a call from him that he wanted to develop it into a half hour show for a series he was producing for one of the big cable stations.   That ultimately fell through but it re-ignited both our interests in doing it on stage.  We called around, chased down leads.  Danny, Nobu and I even schlepped ourselves to NY where we were invited to read it at the Public.  Leads eluded us.  Then, after much planning, un-planning, and planning again, it was produced on stage at East West Players in co-production with the Robey Theatre Company in Los Angeles.  Of course, starring Nobu and Danny, directed by Ann Bowen.  I thank Danny who was so instrumental in supporting the production.  During its rehearsals, I was on the road continuously, hurrying to finish my film for Sundance and opening an involved work in another City.   I flew in for the opening.  

That was pretty much the extent of my involvement.  There were good people stewarding the production and I had faith they would do right by it.  My faith was not misplaced.  It had a very successful run.  An interesting side-note for the two theaters was the mix of Asian and Black faces for each night’s performance.  For Los Angeles, in particular, given its history of African American-Asian relations, this was encouraging.

Time passed and I longed to do it again, this time with more of my involvement.  In the interim, Danny and I were approached by the other big cable station to develop YOHEN into a movie.  Drafts were written and rewritten, written and rewritten...  Then on another front, after a series of discussions with Carey Perloff and Paul Walsh, we decided to arrange an in-house reading.  It was to be with Stephen Anthony Jones and Diane Kobayashi before staff and conservatory students.  With this new cast and simple setting, we were taken by the potential for a new interpretation to the material.  I was particularly excited about the prospect of being able to revisit this piece, a straight forward tale examining the complexities of long-term love.  Now I’ve been given the opportunity with this new cast, director Seret Scott and the support of ACT.


Additional Note - There is an odd and telling anecdote that goes along with the writing of YOHEN.   It was originally commissioned by a well-known, respected regional theater.   As I alluded to earlier, upon my delivering the play, I received only a curt form letter saying they had no interest in pursuing it.   No, ‘Let’s do a reading..’, or, ‘These are our thoughts...’.    A little over ten years later, about the time Danny and I were trying to adapt YOHEN for his series, out of the blue I got a call from the very same theater company, and, very same literary manager who had originally commissioned the play and turned it down.   He told me they had been sent this new play of mine, YOHEN, by another literary  manager and wanted to include it in their new plays festival.    They were excited about its subject matter and very much wanted it as part of their program.   At first I thought it was a joke.   It had to be.    But I soon realized they were completely serious.   I was tempted to call him on it but for some reason didn’t.  I let him go on and on about this new work of mine, perhaps it gave me perverse satisfaction.   In the end I turned them down.   I never told him the irony of his offer.   On one hand I was disappointed with them.  And yet on the other it showed how the American Theater’s attitude towards marginalized racial dynamics was growing.   Fitfully, and at times with agendas of giving good public face and expanding funding bases, nonetheless, I choose to believe, growing.  

The Title - YOHEN is a term my pottery teacher once used to describe a piece we had pulled from the kiln.   We worked with the traditional nobori-gama or climbing kiln, using wood and oil to fire it.  Upon opening the kiln, there are always a number of works damaged during the course of firing.  They were kizumono.  Oddly colored, peculiar flashing, warped - all products of a process that invites the unpredictable forces of nature to participate.  I was in charge of breaking them up and scattering them on the dirt road for fill.  These throwaways tended to be in higher number with Seto-san.  There was a loose style to his work that lent itself to this result more than if he been compulsively diligent.  This was his character and choice.  He liked to tempt those unknown hands of fate to more readily instruct, even if it meant a larger percentage of unusable pots.

While unloading the kiln, there would be a piece damaged in the firing we would put aside to be discarded later.  However, the more Seto-san looked at it, the more he could see it held an aesthetic essence - derived from the very fact of it being the result of an accident - that made it artfully compelling.  The hands of conscious artist design, and, unseen forces creating in concert.  This piece was referred to by Seto Hiroshi as yohen.

As I learned in time, yohen is traditionally used in specific reference to the coloring of pots and that my teacher’s usage to include physical misshapen-ness, was a broader interpretation, perhaps again, to suit his own particular approach - expansive, allowing greater spaces between the logic of his aesthetic rationalism.  He was a character.     

Interestingly, the idea that Yohen pertains to coloring, is in fact, more appropriate to this American play where we live in a highly racialized world.  And where the tradition is to focus on color.


A final note.  Nobu McCarthy passed away last year while shooting a film in Brazil.  She was a very special friend to my wife, Diane, and myself.  Nobu will be dearly missed by us as both an intimate and as a gifted and favorite working associate.  As she was so much a part of the development of this play, I dedicate this production to the memory of her, Nobu McCarthy. 


serialized, excerpted, screened, played, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera...

 Note - I have purposely left some of these scripts with notes and rewrites included.  Thought it might be interesting.  If there is interest, I might publish earlier drafts of works to track through the progression of rewriting and development.   E.g., After The War took three to four years.  A Fist Of Roses took 3 years.   The Ballad of Yachiyo around 6.  Chang and Eng - off and on roughly 25 years or so.   

If you wish to download a script, click on the right-most icon (the arrow in the box) at the top of the viewer. Once you are redirected to the Google Doc page, click File in the upper left-hand corner and then 'Download original'. 






Written as a companion play to THE WASH

Below:  Portrait of my friend Anthony Brown's parents.








Wrote this as the female counterpart to Yankee Dawg You Die.



Workshopped and staged reading with the Mark Taper Forum at the Actor's Gang in LA, The Royal Court Theater in London; Campo Santo in SF.  Premiered at Campo Santo with Loy Arcenas directing.






Apricots of Andujar. A Chamber Performance Opera (a work in progress) 

March 28, 2012
Rehearsal.  Workshop PerformanceWestern Michigan University. 

John Duykers - Performer
Max Duykers - Composer
Joel Davel – Musician-Perfomer
Philip Kan Gotanda - Librettist
Missy Weaver - Director





a full length spoken word performance play

#1 in the Garage Band Plays Series.

featuringthe retro jazz ensemble - the new orientals

dan kuramoto - horns

danny yamamoto - drums

taiji miyamoto - bass

with -  joe ozu


Video Director: John Esaki




Collaboratively created, developed and directed by Philip Kan Gotanda and Campo Santo with Movement Direction by Erika Chong Shuch,  Live Music/Beat Box by Tommy Shepherd
Featuring: Michael Cheng, Donald Lacy, Rajiv Shah, Tommy Shepherd and Danny Wolohan.

A Fist of Roses uses elements of personal narrative, live beat boxing and movement to explore the definition of masculinity in our culture and its relationship to violence-primarily violent acts in relationships. Developed by Philip Kan Gotanda and Campo Santo through a series of interviews, open readings and public discussions with audience members and community group

World premiere with Campo Santo+Intersetion for the Arts.

Student Production at UC Berkeley Dept of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies. 

Directors - Gotanda and Shuch.





Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Presenting a play of mine.  Did it a few years back at ACT in SF directed by Carey Perfloff.  Very proud of this one.






#5 in the Garage Band Plays Series

2011 Asian American Theater Co., 2008 Theater Dept UC Davis. 



It started with a slip of the tongue. A name my father let inadvertently drop during a casual, late-night conversation about his days growing up in Kauai. A sister, Yachiyo, whom I had never heard mentioned before in all the talk-story sessions with him. Yachiyo. No one wanted to talk about her. She was to be forgotten. Her name not spoken. And yet it was. Yachiyo. Maybe it was the unconscious urge on the part of my father to release the secret shame. Speak the name that had been left unsaid on his lips all these years.

I learned the barest of details. She was my father’s eldest sister; she fell in love with a married man, got pregnant and after walking home all night through cane fields and red dirt, committed suicide by ingesting ant poison. The year was 1919.

I also acquired the only remaining photo of Yachiyo taken shortly before her death. And one more. Both gotten from my cousin Kiku in Waimea just before Hurricane Iniki erased all other traces of her in a swirl of wind and water. The other was of Yachiyo’s funeral.

Something about Yachiyo’s story got into my body, into my soul. I wanted to try and write her story. And so I did. Try. I tried for years to write her story. I put it aside several times, returning later only to be disappointed again in my attempts. I did several drafts from several different character viewpoints, deconstructed the linear narrative after an encounter with David Hockney and his photo collage technique, and even took a special trip to Kauai spending several days searching the Kekaha Japanese Cemetery for her headstone because my cousin Yukio told me it might still be there.

No matter what I did I could not conjure up who she was. What her voice was. I had done my homework, read the oral histories, spent time with my relatives and kept her photo looking at me on my desk. This I would intermittently exchange with her funeral picture. Never together, only one at a time. It somehow seemed wrong to put her portrait next to the picture of her casket. The two together spoke to a betrayal that I found unsettling. I waited for her to speak to me, her voice to be heard, to come in my dreams and reveal the story to her nephew, the writer. Nothing.

In time, the intervals of abandonment grew longer. Her pictures were set aside with others of family. New and more urgent writing projects came to the fore and Yachiyo’s name was left unspoken. Again.

Then, several years ago, my wife Diane had an operation. While she was recuperating, the doctors and nurses were nice enough to let me stay inside her room. I took out my computer and began to write. Over the next few days and nights, sitting next to my sleeping wife, in that environment of the hospital, I came up with the draft that eventually became the play.

It is not the true story or even a story drawn from complete factual interpretation. It is the story that came out, by accident, at a moment of non-expectation. A nephew’s made-up tale to complete something incomplete in his own family’s story.

I have always felt people’s lives, no matter how brief, no matter how seemingly uneventful on the surface, make a kind of ripple in their historical time, sending into motion a series of connected disturbances, interrelated emotions and intentions that seed the universe, eventually branching out to become its fruit – never lost, never really seen, but always present.

Perhaps Yachiyo looked at her younger brother, my father, in a certain way. Said something, did not say something, stroked his head, made him laugh. Perhaps they sat side by side at my grandfather’s fish farming pond in Mana, touching the water’s surface and sending into motion that ripple that led to him one day speaking her name to a son who wanted to remember. After so many years. So many years of being unsaid. Yachiyo. There, I have said it. Said it as my father finally said it. Yachiyo. After all these years of silence. After all these years of buried shame.




Mature, well-appointed WOMAN lit in the shadows.

Mrs. Green:  I was in California standing on a hill overlooking the 280 Freeway, the Pacific Ocean in the distance – Watching cars making their way to and from Silicon Valley when it came to me.  Asian women and rich white men.  It’s the perfect 21st century complement.  Let’s examine this.  The power couple.  Two Asians?   I’m sorry, that’s not a power couple.  At least not an American power couple.   A Caucasian man and a Caucasian woman - good looking, tall, well-dressed?  Well, yes, but it’s so last century.   White male and an African American woman?    Trying too hard, too self-conscious-look-at-me-I’m-so-liberal.  A Latina and a white male?  That’s still not here yet, but it’s coming.  But the white male and the Asian woman.   Doesn’t it seem so --  inevitable?   Two heavenly bodies brought together by the forces of early 21st century post-PC re-racialization, old-boy gender tendencies under the guise of faux liberal exhibitionism; U.S. imperialism clinging to the vestiges of its old world penisization, the Chinese economic sword of damocles swinging closer and closer, threatening to cut into the allignment of this perfect circle jerk - it hit me.   The clouds parted over the valley and it was as if God spoke to me.  A stunningly beautiful Asian woman and a stunningly rich White man.  


During this we hear echo-like sounds of women’s voices singing -

Scarlett:  There’s a custom called, hone wake, ‘dividing the bones’.  You do that so you can be buried in two places.  My mother wanted part of my father’s ashes scattered in the ocean halfway between Japan and Korea.   She always thought he must be part Korean because he married her against his family’s wishes.  Actually, my mother’s family was even more against it.  My mother couldn’t go.  I went alone, I was twelve.   Caught the boat, it was night.  At some point you begin to see the lights of Pusan, that’s how you know you’re halfway.

 -- We hear the voices of people singing **Arirang, a Korean song amidst weeping --

 As I made my way to the side of the boat, I saw that there were others doing the same thing.  They had candles and were scattering ashes.  And they were singing.   I heard a voice say, ‘You will be all right’.  I turned and there was no one there.   I scattered my father’s ashes.  I came home.

         Sound fades out --

Jack:  The voice?

Scarlett:  I pray but no one answers.  Do you believe in God?

         No response.


Scarlett:  You think sex answers everything.

Jack:  It’s driving the engine 9 times out of 10.

Scarlett:   It’s given way too much attention in this culture.  Especially now the Boomers are aging, - Jesus, if I have to see another advertisement about penile enhancement, sexual prolongation or Viagra, I’m going to scream.    Why is it so goddamn important, Jack?

Jack:   So you don’t like fucking?

Scarlett:  Please, do you have to be crass?   I do like sex but it’s not that important. Maybe when you’re 16 but when you’re 30? 40?  Some of my women friends...  It’s like they have the complete box sets of Sex in the City and they’re patterning their lives after the characters.  There are more important considerations. 

Jack:  Like what?

Scarlett:  Can you sit down with your partner, not talk about anything and be fulfilled?  And when you do talk with your partner do you really listen to what they’re saying?  

Jack:  Sex is very important, Scarlett.  It was important when I was sixteen, it’s important to me now.

Scarlett:  You’re 70 Jack --

Jack: Who the hell cares how old I am, I like to fuck, I should be entitled to fuck, it’s my right as an American to fuck.  I resent you insinuating I use Viagra. 

Scarlett:  I didn’t insinuate --

Jack:  It’s about the only way adult human beings have to be intimate these days --

Scarlett:  Jack can’t be intimate with another man then?

Jack: Why do you think men have to sit around in a circle pounding drums.   Watch football games together?  When you have sex you cut away all the bullshit and it’s just you – raw, unadulterated you, all laid out there --

Scarlett:  That’s being an animal --

Jack: That’s what we are Scarlett - You work out there in the real world, little fish get eaten by bigger fish and the biggest, loudest cock rules the hen house, it’s pretty goddamn basic. 

Scarlett:  I refuse to believe we’re just animals.

Jack:  When someone’s inside of you, when you’re having sex, doesn’t it mean something to you? 

Scarlett:  It does, of course it does.  But it’s so much more than just having something inserted into your body.   It’s all so focused on the act, on the position, on the body parts.   We have the capacity to elevate ourselves above the pig and the horse, to make love-making into a formidable action of psychic, physical, intellectual – yes, intellectual – congress that when done with phylogenous instigation and ontological commitment can elicit the force of not just the two selves, but of all of civilization in your orgasm.


Jack:  You think about this a lot, don’t you?



Produced by Silk Road Risings Theater. Performed as part of the SHINSAI Project.

-- Al Kooper --

A Man’s BODY dressed in a funereal suit lays on a raised platform. 

                 A MAN appears and looks at the body.  Dressed in a dark suit, white dress shirt, open with no   

                 tie.  He wears no socks or shoes.  

                 He moves around the body. Studies it --

                 The sound of fluttering wings 

Man:  My little niece wakens and says a bird, a big beautiful bird came out of the top of Grandpa’s head, flew around the room and then went out the window.

The phone rings.  It is the hospital.

We gather around the hospital bed and look at my father’s body.  It is 3:45 in the morning.  My two brothers and I are exhausted.  My mother quiet.  My father looks...  He’s a corpse.   Sunken cheeks, drawn grayish skin.  I am repulsed.   Whatever or whoever this is, it is not my father.  This is a large sick animal wandered into this hospital and fallen dead in his room.  An ancient trunk of some long felled decaying oak.   A whale that mysteriously beached itself and chosen death in this very public place of hope and healing. 

This is a sick joke perpetrated by a cruel, cruel god.   This empty container.  This discarded packaging of something once so...


                The Man takes two Coins from his inside pocket and places them over his father’s eyes.


He heard they needed Japanese doctors on the west coast, so on break he hitched a ride from the University of Arkansas Med School to see for himself.   His mother and father were born in Hiroshima and he on the Island of Kauai.   He meets the daughter of a well-to-do businessman, they marry, the War breaks out, they are hauled all the way to Rohrer Arkansas and are imprisoned there for 3 years.  

They return.  Home.   They beget 3 sons.   One becomes a doctor.  One becomes a law professor.  One becomes...   The father wonders where this son comes from.   No one in his family, no one in his wife’s family has ever shown this odd affliction.   The father lectures the son, grounds him, threatens to cut him off in hopes to reshape this errant internal mapping.  The son himself attempts to break this imperative by returning to school and becoming a lawyer.  But it will not erase itself, it will not mutate.  It continues to inform, the youngest son reverts and the father disowns him. 

They struggle.  They war.  To establish contested territory.  His and his legacy.  To the death of.  Something.   It is mythic, biblical, it is stupid.  And yet a tale repeated over and over since the beginning. 


The son writes a play.  The father attends.   It is about the father.   The stories the father told his son --  when the kiabe tree broke and the bees swarmed the house; how his 7 year old brother rolled and smoked cigarettes to his own father’s delight. 

This father watches silently, the son watches the father watching.  Unnoticed by either, they share the same nervous habit of tilting their heads and rubbing their earlobes.  Afterwards, the father nods and grunts something that sounds like a cough, that sounds like an approval.  He turns and walks away.

The father didn’t say, “You’re a bum, when are you going to get a real job”.  All things considered, the son reflects, not bad.   He wishes they could have talked about baseball and such.

The father pauses at the stairs.  What he wanted to say is, ‘I am dying, will you come to me and speak of things a father and son speak?   Baseball and such?’

The son goes home and dreams.  Of ragged things that chant and howl.

Of secret libraries and fish with no eyes.  Of mango and tea.   Of rain that whispers its love over and over.

The father wonders in his odd moments – Was it his genes?   Was it the fact that he agreed with his head strong wife to allow the son to take piano lessons?   Was it because his own mother liked to singshigin, that awful Japanese caterwauling, when the night was so full of pikake bloom she could not sleep.  Or was it his own father’s father who was known to break out in impromptu dance and song after several jars of cheap shochu?  Or maybe even before that?   Someone he did not know of?   Someone not even Japanese?  

He is distracted by the chatter of sparrows.  He does something he has never done.  He turns to listen -- 


The son no longer looks back.   He just knows his body has an inclination.  It always has.   He listens to his body.  He listens carefully and cultivates an ear for its shapes and rhythms.   He listens.  To his body.   He makes good art, he makes bad art.  But it is his own body’s speak and music, of that he is sure.  Where it comes from, he does not know:  The story of the great grandfather who danced in drunken abandon, the grandmother who practiced classical singing amidst narcotic blooms of a sleepless Kauai night, the father who agreed to let the mother give the son piano lessons.  Perhaps even before.  Even before. 

                  Buddhist funeral sutra chanting -- 

A psychic once told the son he would have three sons.   She could see them around him waiting to be born.   He had three fine lines coming off of a deep horizontal crease in the left quadrant of his dominant hand.  Further proof of his impending fatherhood.  


It is while the father listens to the sparrows’ cries that his *heart breaks.


                  He holds out his hands, palms up --

He looks at his hand now.  There are no lines coming off the horizontal crease.

                  Turns his hands palms down --

He has no sons.  No children.   He wonders who will mourn his dying.

                 The chanting fades -- 


                The man reaches into his coat pockets and brings out two handfuls of rice.   He holds his hands up

                and lets  the rice  pour in a stream onto the stage.  The rice makes a crisp clattering sound and

                scatters.  Silence --  

He wishes he could leave.  He wishes he could run as fast and as far as his legs will take him.  The son is still a boy and these remains are an irreducible truth of his failures.

The minister is finishing his business.   The son lingers.  Tilts his head and rubs his earlobe -- 


It is said that for a child to become an adult, he must touch the body of a dead person.

                Pause.  Then.  He reaches out to touch his father –

                Black out.  The flutter of wings --

End of play. 

heart breaks: he dies