An Evening with Jude Narita

"Jude Narita's inspiring show traverses the broad scope of Asian American women's experiences here in the United States. From a polished news broadcaster to a new Cambodian immigrant stunned by the plenty at her local supermarket to a Japanese picture bride from the early 1900s, these vividly portrayed women show us the vibrant diversity of an Asian American experience that has been too often ignored. The writing is tender, hilarious, and always spot on. This heartfelt--and sometimes heartbreaking--performance by Ms. Narita shows all of us the power that the stage has to change the world."

Andrea Louie, Executive Director, Asian American Arts Alliance 4/20/2013

Review for "FROM THE HEART"

If there was any doubt that one actor could capture the very private moments of five women from very different generations, ethnicities and political climates, Jude Narita puts those doubts to rest, with a smile.

In her one-woman play From the Heart, each story puts the spotlight on a woman who too often feels invisible. First, we meet Miyhan, a recent transplant from Korea as she struggles through ESL courses at her new American high school and is introduced to Jazz through her first American friend. Next, we run side by side with a little girl in Hiroshima as she flees the destruction of the atomic bomb and eventually perishes with the rest of her village. In "Dream Mountain," we relive the trauma of a Cambodian woman as she watches her family be punished for their protests, at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, teaching her to relinquish her own voice. In "Give-Away," we are in the room when a Japanese American mother shares what it felt like for her family to be stripped of their belongings during the Japanese American evacuation and internment of 1942. Finally, we lend our ears to a young Chinese American woman as she tries to distance herself from anything "Chinese," who later in life, ironically finds herself learning about her heritage in college, where she is able to exchange her shame for pride.

We watch these characters fumble for words as they struggle to exercise their voice. They reveal to us their secrets, and we see them in both their most vulnerable and their most empowering moments. Moments in which they tell their version of the story.

What elevates the performance beyond an Asian American Studies survey course is Narita's acting, which is not only sincere, but charged with emotion. She does not simply tell the stories of these women, she takes us there with them. We not only see, but we feel the sadness of someone being stripped of their belongings in less than a day by their own country. We smell the burning marrow in Hiroshima and we listen, painfully, to the pregnant silence that rests heavily upon the mother in "Dream Mountain," decades after her encounter with the Khmer Rouge.

Images and sound bites of these women are burned into our memories long after Narita leaves the stage.

--Naomi Iwamoto, Asia Pacific Arts (December 17, 2009)

On the Island and From the Heart provide the complete theatre experience in one night. Both of these one-woman shows provide the apples and oranges necessary for a nice evening treat. They tell stories that illuminate various plights of Asians in a universal vocabulary that would chill any audience member. Both are written by their performers, which lends an ownership to both the performance and the message. I was politically and emotionally satisfied after the evening...

From the Heart is without a doubt the orange of the evening treat. Jude Narita peels away at five Asian and Asian-American life experiences. Each story has a different tone, style, and costume, but all of them made me laugh out loud and a few made me cry. Narita had me questioning and answering and questioning again. In contrast to her fellow performance, her set is simple: just her, center stage. Narita is truly captivating. I admire theatre that can keep an audience thinking even after the performance and in days to come. I know I am still questioning and discovering things about Narita's piece and I am sure my fellow audience is in the same boat.

The conceptual differences in the pieces provide a dynamic experience. But what brings it all together is the universal message told. Both women use subtle humor and painful reality to set a mood and encouragingly challenge the audience. Not only would I recommend this theatre treat, I already have.

--Natalie Pero, (June 22, 2007)


Jude Narita in Walk the Mountain, on the Vietnam War's Effects

In dramatizing unspeakably horrific events, must an artist end up brutalizing her audience as well? Jude Narita's one-woman show Walk the Mountain, about the hellish effects of the Vietnam War, reminds us that it's possible for a performer to treat both her material and her audience with respect.

Ms. Narita used interviews with Vietnamese and Cambodian women who lived through the conflict to shape a nuanced account of their lives. Interspersing her monologue with photographs, film clips, facts and quotations, she portrays strong female characters: a warrior, a doctor, a student, an activist. We see Vietnamese women defending their country for as long as it's been prey to invaders, from the Trung sisters, who fought off the Chinese in A.D. 39, to those who helped battle the French, the Japanese, the French again, and then, of course, the United States.

Elegantly directed by her daughter Darling Narita, Ms. Narita's understated performance allows characters to speak through her without affect or manufactured emotion. She retains a certain narrative distance by presenting her material as recollections, rather than theatricalizing their experiences as if in real time. A doctor stoically recalls the physical effects of the bombing: bodies that vanished entirely, and those nearby that looked like "burnt leaves and vines, flat."

A South Vietnamese student, educated in the United States, describes her shock at learning that the North Vietnamese write poetry and love their country as much as she does. An adopted Cambodian child, awed by the abundance she sees in America ("So much everything I cannot believe!"), realizes that what she most wants is to take the family torn from her by the Khmer Rouge to a Lucky supermarket. Vietnam is often portrayed through American eyes here, so it is refreshing to be offered a different view.

--Laura Weinert, THEATER REVIEW, New York Times

"War is not about policy-it's about people."

This simple, powerful statement is part of Jude Narita's message to her audience in the program for her one-woman show Walk the Mountain. It's also the theme of the play; there's really not much else I need to tell you to explain what she's conveying here.

But I will tell you that Narita expresses herself with potent eloquence, so much so that her work here is unforgettable in its emotional directness. Narita tells us stories about Vietnamese and Cambodian women during and after the terrible wars in Indochina from the 1950s until the 1990s. They started when the French returned after the Japanese were driven out after World War II; and although the Americans stopped fighting in 1975, Pol Pot continued to terrorize the people of Cambodia for several years after that, and the United States embargo on trade-which resulted in a great deficit of medical supplies and technology in the newly united postwar Vietnam-didn't get lifted until the Clinton administration.

In Walk the Mountain we meet people we're tempted to call "innocent" or "victims" or both, but neither word really gets to the heart of it: they're just plain people, not personally at war with any cause or any country, whose suffering is the supposed "unintended" consequence of warfare. Americans in particular seem prone to forget about or ignore these people because, except for 9/11 and a few other isolated incidents, we remain a country that has not been attacked within in its own borders. The Vietnamese and Cambodians were attacked, for decades, by foreigners and in some cases by themselves. The characters in this play include a mother searching for sons killed in battle whose bodies are now missing, desperately seeking closure for them and for herself; a doctor who worked for a decade during the war in a jungle hospital, now giving tours to foreign dignitaries of the laboratory where the horrifying effects of Agent Orange are being documented and researched; a survivor of the Khmer Rouge's brutal regime; and a Vietnamese immigrant in America, adjusting to the myriad cultural differences between her homeland and her new adopted country.

Their stories have largely gone unheard, which is a principal reason why Walk the Mountain is so significant a work, not only of theatre, but of oral history. (Narita's text here is based on conversations with Vietnamese and Cambodian women in America and in those two countries.) Narita's performance captures the voices and spirits of these women magnificently; she shifts from one to another with additions of just a few props or costume pieces. During the transitions, video and slides are projected at the rear of the stage, generally offering views of some of the places or events she talks about in the guise of one of her characters.

One story in Walk the Mountain-about an American attempt to airlift Vietnamese children out of the war zone-is so shocking that several people in the audience gasped as Narita completed it. My companion and I were both alive and aware at the time when this happened, but it was the first either one of us had ever heard of it. Too much of the human cost of war is hidden from us, now as much as then. How many subjects are more essential that the one Narita boldly confronts in this remarkable show? And why is it that her voice, stirring and powerful as it is, still feels so alone?

That our enemy may be our greatest teacher is the poignant lesson of Jude Narita's haunting solo performance. With eloquent direction by Darling Narita, Jude's heroic characters, drawn from interviews with Viet namese and Cambodian women who lived through the Vietnam War, reveal the humanity of a culture made faceless by the American war machine. The hourlong multimedia show incorporates storytelling, poetry and interpretative dance, in which Jude expresses the significant historical role of Vietnamese women warriors, whose country was occupied for hundreds of years first by the Chinese, then the French and finally the Americans. A young doctor in a jungle hospital, a freedom fighter imprisoned in a tiger cage, a shell-shocked immigrant in the U.S. all survived against incredible odds, but not without paying an agonizing price. Graphic slides of victims of napalm, the carpet-bombing of villages, provocative quotes by Ho Chi Minh and American military leaders, and shocking statistics bring home the harsh reality of wars we never see.


The View Is Different From the "Mountain"

Jude Narita's powerful one-woman show Walk the Mountain, at Highways Performance Space, is an antidote for the commercialism of Miss Saigon and a cautionary tale of warfare American-style. On Jerry Browning's stark set, wooden grates are suspended around a central screen on which slides of quotes and photos of real Vietnamese people are flashed. Narita opens with a creation legend, telling of how the mountain spirit and the dragon lord begat offspring that became the Vietnamese. Narita tells of warrior women who led armies against the Chinese and the French. Contemporary female heroes are also portrayed. A female doctor who performed operations without anesthesia ("no-pain medicine") during the "American War" witnesses what may be latent effects of Agent Orange in the grossly deformed babies she delivers. A mother prays for her dead sons. A rebel leader remembers her days in a tiger cage. A young woman recalls turning away from her family to survive. Director Darling Narita (Jude's daughter) gives the material the gravity it requires. Jude Narita's show points out how these people were oppressed by the Chinese, the French, the Japanese and the Americans. By putting faces on the enemy, Narita challenges concepts of Vietnam and the war Americans fought there.

--Jana J. Monji, THEATER BEAT, Los Angeles Times


With Darkness Behind Us, Daylight Has Come, Jude Narita's latest work, is a multi-media one-woman play about the effects of the internment camps on three different generations of Japanese American women in the Los Angeles area. An Issei (first generation) woman who struggles to build a family business; a Nisei woman (2nd generation) who believes in community, and writes newsletters to keep people in touch; a teenage Nisei angry at being in an internment camp; a Nisei activist; and a Sansei inexplicably drawn to buildings, who realizes through what hardship her grandparents and parents built their lives.

Incorporated in the play is an original video of the Heart Mountain internment camp, with archival footage and photos from the 1940s of the camp; also in the play are old family photos from three Japanese American families. The play is directed by Darling Narita, lighting design is by Jerry Browning, and live music is provided by George Abe. Both funny and sad, With Darkness Behind Us, Daylight Has Come is a moving theatrical experience.

Jude Narita's Darkness Is Witty and Poignant

The latest in Jude Narita's rich canon of one-woman shows, With Darkness Behind Us, Daylight Has Come, at Highways, takes on the heft and poignancy of oral history, much as did Narita's 1987 solo turn, Coming Into Passion/Song for a Sansei.

While Sansei beautifully explored differences between Japanese-born Americans and their Westernized offspring, Darkness takes on one specific subject—the experiences of Japanese American women interned by the U.S. government during World War II.

Narita's daughter, Darling Narita, directs, a lovely intergenerational touch, considering Narita's past emphasis on the conflicts and commonalities between parents and their children. The staging is slightly rough-edged, not quite the polished accomplishments of Sansei. Yet Narita, ever the gracious storyteller, is at her warmest and most accessible, displaying a roguish humor that is surprising in such a poignant context.

George Abe's live music, period slides and a video of Narita wandering through the ruins of the Heart Mountain, Wyoming, camp, evoke the properly wistful atmosphere. The play is largely a series of first-person narratives, ranging from the reminiscences of older women, who are looking back on their camp experiences in retrospect, to the agonized musings of a teenage girl, an internee who has recently gotten word that her G.I. brother has been killed in action.

That sharp irony is almost overwhelming, yet Narita's sweetly upbeat touch penetrates her audience's complacency more keenly than tirades or recriminations ever could. In this story well told, Narita universalizes the experience of the camps for all audiences, humanizing that bitter chapter in history with perception and restraint.

--Los Angeles Times

Jude Narita Delivers a Powerful Performance

Tule Lake, Manzanar, Minidoka, Topaz, Poston, Gila River, Heart Mountain, Granada, Rohwer, Jerome.

If there is an experience that separates Japanese from Japanese Americans, and gives the Japanese American culture it's own distinct place in American history, it is the World War II concentration camp experience under direction of Executive Order 9066.

On Friday, April 20, Jude Narita, accompanied by musician George Abe, performed her play With Darkness Behind Us, Daylight Has Come, at the Highways theater in Santa Monica.

With Darkness Behind Us deals with the unique experience that the Japanese Americans had to go through and the effect it has had on the shaping of a people. The play was broken up into four acts where Narita portrayed a different character in each segment. Each character was a Japanese American at a different stage in her life, as the life revolved around their respective different WWII experiences. Each act was separated by a slide show of black and white photos and a video sequence of the Heart Mountain concentration camp, as it is today.

In the opening act, Narita played a wife and mother of three dealing with losing everything that she and her husband had worked for, as they were given notice to pack and up and sell everything before being forcibly relocated.

In the second act, Narita portrayed a modern day lady, who is visited by her best friend's daughter after her friend's death. The daughter comes to Narita's character to find out more about her mother and her time in the concentration camp.

The third act Narita played a teen sitting on the steps at a concentration camp, fighting through anger and sorrow. The character deals with her emotions by crying and yelling out her anger. The older internees walk by and ask her how she's doing. Although she says she's doing fine; the tone in her voice and tears down her face contradict the words.

The final act reflects the Daylight Has Come part of the title of Narita's play, as she portrays a modern day woman who has the desire to build and fix; symbolic of the Japanese American community postwar experience.

Narita, who wrote With Darkness Behind Us, started writing and performing her own plays after becoming frustrated by the lack of roles, and with the continual portrayals in the media, of one-dimensional stereotypes of Asian women.

Narita's characters were more than just mere caricatures but painfully human as she revealed the many levels of sorrow, anger and uncertainty in each while finding a way to extract humor from some of the characters.

The music by Abe, who had worked with Narita on her past performances, and is trained in shakuhachi (Japanese flute) and taiko, complimented the tone of the performance.

The attendance was mostly made up of older Nikkei, but the play reached out to all in attendance.

With Darkness Behind Us, Daylight Has Come is a moving piece that invites the audience to experience on the biggest blemishes of U.S. history in the 20th century. Those outside the JA community need to see this play for a true glimpse at how it affected their fellow American citizens. It also needs to be seen by the younger Japanese Americans to keep alive the story. Those who did suffer through the events themselves will be compelled to see this play as they reflect on their own distinct experience.

With Darkness Behind Us was originally funded by the California Civil Liberties Public education (CCLPEP) and the LA cultural affairs Department. The CCLPEP is a three-year grant program created in 1998 to provide the California community with information and education on the JA experience before, during and immediately after World War II. For more information, write Diana Matsuda, Program Director, CCLPEP, 900 N. St., #300, Sacramento, CA 95814

--Rafu Shimpo