AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Kimber Lee
Directed by Kirsten Brandt
Presented by TheatreWorks
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA / (650) 463-1960

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Change clashes with tradition in TheatreWorks' smartly imagined production of Kimber Lee's "tokyo fish story."

Set in present day Tokyo, most of the action takes place in a fading restaurant, Sushi Koji, where Koji (Francis Jue) is the owner and master sushi-maker. He has high standards for the sushi he serves, but business is declining fast. Instead people are flocking to a neighboring trendy chain restaurant where the food is cheaper but less pristine.

His protege, Takashi (James Seol), is an inventive sushi chef himself, but he keeps his talents under wraps while upholding Koji's standards. Only Nobu (Linden Tailor), an assistant in the restaurant, has sampled Takashi's delicious creations.

Arthur Keng plays a variety of roles ranging from a comically inept apprentice to an old fish monger and slick businessman, among others. Nicole Javier completes the cast as Ama, who fights sexism to get a job in the restaurant, and as a woman who appears in some dream-like sequences and who apparently represents Koji's late estranged wife.

Kirsten Brandt directs the Northern California premiere of this play, which was a hit in a recent TheatreWorks New Works Festival, which showcases promising plays in various stages of development.

Jue is outstanding as his Koji gradually evolves from a man who serenely rides his bicycle to work (a nice bit of stagecraft) and assuredly rejects fish that don't meet his high standards to a man who becomes more aware of his faults and frailties.

Likewise, Seol reflects the conflict between Takashi's stubborn loyalty to Koji and his need to become his own creative self.

Tailor overdoes Nobu's hip-hop actions, but Keng is admirably versatile in his multiple roles. Likewise, Javier plays the two female roles well.

Wilson Chin designed the simple set, which easily transitions between locations. Lighting is by Dawn Chiang with costumes by Alina Bokovikova and sound by Jeff Mockus. It's worth noting that Chef Toshio Sakuma served as the consultant who taught the actors some sushi-making techniques.

This fascinating play runs about 90 minutes without intermission.

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