Brenda Wong Aoki @ Playhouse
1:00pm, Sun 10 Mar 2002
Short Review: Charmingly Familial
“Uncle Gunjiro’s Girlfriend” is a monologue about performer Brenda Wong Aoki’s ancestry. Spurred by the discovery of a “secret shame” in the Aoki family, it is an exploration of family history and societal conceptions of race.
Aoki’s father’s family was introduced to America by the emigration of three brothers. With the family steeped in samurai tradition, they each carried to their new home a different focus on maintaining their culture. Initially welcomed in their new home of San Francisco, the “warrior” of the brothers (Gunjiro) fell in love with the daughter of a Arch-Deacon of the church – resulting in societal rejection of both Gunjiro and his bride.
The great thing about this piece is the warmth brought to it by Aoki – she speaks dearly and passionately of her ancestors. There is much focus on the shame (and loss of face) suffered by the family due to Gunjiro eloping with his bride – Aoki’s grandfather was forced from his privileged position in the church, and had to resort to menial labour to provide for his family – but the discovery that this shame actually represented an act of heroism managed to bring the importance of self-worth to the fore.
In the midst of all cross-cultural angst (helpfully commentated by newspaper clippings – zim, zim), Aoki still manages to highlight the sheer ignorance of the greater society at the time – Gunjiros “yellow and white blender babies”, who later all proved to harbor genius, are a prime example.
Accompanied by a family slideshow, and with husband Mark Izu providing musical punctuation (the “bass talking” was a neat touch), Aoki managed to provide a satisfying look at societal acceptance. A beautifully charming work.