This month, I took a step back from my usual book recommendations for the Northwest Asian Weekly and wrote a review of the stage production of “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.”
Growing up in Seattle’s Chinatown–International District during World War II, Henry Lee has experienced his fair share of problems.
An American-born son of Chinese immigrants, he attended the all-white Rainier School on scholarship, was bullied by his new classmates, and was disdained by almost everyone he encountered because he shared features with America’s enemies, the Japanese.
Then he met Keiko Okabe, a new scholarship student at Rainier. Keiko’s arrival makes things both better and worse for Henry — better, because he now has an ally at school; worse, because she is Japanese American and is viewed as evil by everyone else, including his Chinese-nationalist father.
Book-It Repertory Theatre’s production of “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” begins 40 years later in the 1980s with a grown-up Henry, played by Stan Asis, outside the Panama Hotel in Seattle’s Japantown. The hotel’s new owner is telling reporters about the dozens of steamer trunks she has discovered in the basement, filled with the heirlooms and artifacts left by the Japanese American families that were forced to leave their homes and interned at various camps throughout the country during. Hearing this announcement, Henry is reminded that one of those trunks belongs to Keiko’s family.
The play, directed and adapted by Annie Lareau from Jamie Ford’s novel of the same name, jumps between the 1940s and 1980s, as Henry sets about searching for the Okabe family trunk and reflects on his childhood and relationship with Keiko, who he lost track of after the war.
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