CONTINUES TOUCHING OUR HEARTS
By Iride Aparicio
Photos courtesy: San Jose Stage Co.
San José, CA— Chicano Playwright LUIS VALDEZ play, “VALLEY OF THE HEART” is our story. It happened to American people, living within the confines of the United States. Most of the action takes place here, in California, in the fruits and vegetables fields of Santa Clara county, at the time when Silicon Valley was called “THE VALLEY OF THE HEART’S DELIGHT.”
Presented at SAN JOSE STAGE COMPANY in partnership with EL TEATRO CAMPESINO. the play, that started on February 10th and was to end on March 6th, has been extended to March 20th with tickets still selling fast. Why are people attracted to it? Because its story, based on historic facts, is real, we all understand it because it talks about the things we care about: families, work, those we love and are still with us, and those we loved. but have lost.
The story happened 71 years ago, when many who are seeing it today had not even been born, but its theme is familiar to them because today, 71 years later, a new generation is again experiencing the horrors of war,
The play is unique in its genre. The epic story, that covers the years l942-l945, is masterfully directed, by VALDEZ. Each one of the actors acts his or her role well, impersonating their characters with realism. The story, is a moving story that makes us ponder at the end.
L to R Andres Ortiz as Tito Montaño & Rosa Maria Escalante as his mother
It is the story of two families: Ichiro Yamaguchi, (RANDALL NAKANO) a Japanese/American farmer, who lives in his strawberries and broccoli plantation with his wife Hana (CHRISTINA CHU) his son Joe “Joshy” and his daughter Thelma “Tekuro,” (MELANI ARII MAH). The second family are his farmers, the Mexican born Cayetano Montaño (GUSTAVO MELLADO) and his wife Paula (ROSA MARIA ESCALANTE) and his Mexican/American sons Benjamín (LAKIN VALDEZ) and Ernesto “Tito” (ANDRES ORTIZ) and his daughter Maruca (CHRISTY SANDOVAL). They live across the street from him, but not in a fancy house, like the Yamaguchis have, but it a big wooden shack that was used as the horses’ stable at one time.
The epic story covering the years l942-l945, is based on history. Actually on happenings in Santa Clara’s county, where playwright VALDEZ was born and educated (SJSU). In his play, he writes about the things he saw, saw, and the people he met when he was growing up, in a family of farmers who travelled all over California.
“VALLEY OF HEARTS” starts in the year 2001, with old and blind Benjamin, (S.VALDEZ) sitting on a wheel chair, mentally seeing Silicon Valley as it looked in the forties. The remarkable projections of DAVID MURAKAMI on a screen, allows the audience to see them: Streets with rows of Victorian-style houses, one story high buildings, and surrounded by the mountains of the valley, open fields covered with multi-color flowers, and green rectangular parcels of lettuces and broccoli, extended like carpets at both sides of El Camino Real. But There are also other different projections in Benjamin’s mind. A train, crossing the United States from California to Wyoming, a desolated camp covered in snow. Rows of rustic barracks in the concentration camp where the Japanese were kept as prisoners during the second world’s war.
LAKIN VALDEZ, MELANIE ARII MAH guard, ANTHONY CHAN & Passenger
The story then goes back to l942 to the plantation of Ichiro Yamaguchi, where the two families worked in the fields and lived in peace, but not Benjamín Montaño, the oldest son of Cayetano. He is confused and sad because he has fallen in love with Thelma, his boss’ daughter.
The play has been described as a “love story.” but after seen the play and analyzing its structure, we conclude that the focus in this drama is not the love between Benjamin ( S. VALDEZ) and Thelma (ARII MAH). that their love only serves as the LINK that unifies de story
The short scenes (in the play) showing the audience the couple when they are together, are not enough, visually or in dialogue, to establish their love. In one,we see Benjamin is visiting the Yamaguchi’s house, glancing at Thelma as he talks to her father. In another, we see them cleaning broccoli, squatting in two different parallel lines of the field, and when they come close to each other, Benjamin stretches his left arm and Thelma her right arm allowing the tips of their fingers to touch. That is all.
In those scenes when they talk to each other, their dialogue is short, and references to love are not included in their dialogue. We guess they are in love, but since we have no visual clues, we are surprisee when they kiss. We are even more surprised, in another scene, when Thelma, who is alone in the house, invites him into her bedroom. Soon later, Thelma tells Benjamin that because of the Japanese traditions established by her father, they will never be able to get together because he is not Japanese. To makes matter worse, she adds that she is already engaged to a rich Japanese and that they are going to get married.
So their love cease to be the focus of the drama after that. But also after that episode, the real catalyst (what moves the action of the play) the war, starts. It happened before 8 A.M. on December 7, 1941 at the Naval base of Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii, when Japanese bombers bombarded the base, destroying 20 of its ships, including two war ships, 300 airplanes, killed 2,000 American soldiers and marines, wounded over one thousand men, and the next day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declare war with Japan.
And while the war was never fought in American soil, its repercussions were felt everywhere. In reprisal of Pearl Harbor, the possessions of many Japanese Americans were confiscated and hundreds of them were sent as prisoners to concentration camps around the United States.
In LUIS VALDEZ’ drama the Japanese/American Yamaguchi family is one of them. Mr. Yamaguchi is sent to a camp in Arizona and then his wife and daughter are sent to Heart Mountain in Wyoming, separating the young lovers. And the war comes home when being American, because he was born in the United States, their son joins the American army and goes to fight, against the Japanese. With the family gone, their farm is left in the hands of the Montaño’s until the family returns.
In short scenes, the story continues, for two more years, showing the audience happy moments, in the Montaño’s house, with all singing together old Mexican songs. Sad moments in the Yamaguchi's family, living in a cold climate, facing the sickness. There are letters and even meetings between the lovers, fights and lots of doubts in Benjamin’s mind.
LAKIN VALDEZ as Benjamin and MELANI ARII MAH as Thelma
At the end, VALLEY OF THE HEART, the story based on a true love story, ends like a true story with a combination of tears and laughter and a lesson that humanity have not learn yet.
What we see in this play, is that without dropping a single bomb in the American soil, the war, left the VALLEY OF THE HEART DELIGHT in shatters: with broken families as sons and daughters took different sides in the war. Many Americans were left with hatred for other races. Families were separated by death, and we all were separated from each other by prejudice against anybody who “look different” Wold War second did not kill all of those fighting in the battle field, but like any war, it did something worse. It damaged millions for life, poisoning their minds with racism.
“VALLEY OF THE HEART” will play at the SAN JOSE STAGE COMPANY until the 20th of March. For tickets call 408-283-7142 or go online to www.thestage.org.