“Tradition,” derived from the Latin word “tradere,” is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance tied to origins in the past. “Tradere” means to transmit, to hand over, or to give for safekeeping, and it’s the theme running through playwright Kimber Lee’s “Tokyo Fish Story,” directed by May Adrales at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.
“Tokyo Fish Story,” has a great cast that clearly plays to Lee’s attention to intimate details and the push/pull of love and frustration many of us experience. It also reminds us that traditions can be good, but sometimes need to be filed in the “past memories” folder.
Takashi (Tim Chiou) has worked in Master Sushi Chef Koji’s (James Saito) Japanese sushi restaurant for many years. Takashi has developed into a sushi master under the Koji’s roof.
Everything is done with precision at Koji’s. The food prep is performed in the same way every day. The tea is made at the same time every morning. Bowls and utensils must be placed in the same place as the day before. All of this must be done before Koji arrives.
Even though Takashi has help from co-worker Nobu (Raymond Lee), he still must make the decisions and instruct Nobu in the proper way to do and place everything. Every morning Takashi seems to get more and more agitated in prepping the kitchen. Nobu tries to pump Takashi up with silly antics and good humor, which only makes Takashi more angry and he tells Nobu to shut up.
As comments about the far more successful sushi business across the street are made, it’s revealed that tradition has gone out the window there. At one point, Takashi is so anxious to show off his real abilities, he brings out fish and cuts and prepares the kind of sushi that is served at newer restaurants, but not Koji’s. Nobu is stunned at Takashi’s talent and urges him to show Koji what he can do that might save the business. But Takashi knows it’s no use because Koji’s mind is set in tradition and will never change.
Introducing some levity into the somewhat solemn restaurant atmosphere is novice Oishi (Jon Norman Schneider, who plays other characters as well). He makes a total mess in the restaurant, which results in lots of laughs.
There’s an unusual character in the midst of the play; Tina Chilip shows up as a young girl wanting a job, but is abruptly denied. Yet she also appears as Ama, a phantom to Koji, who walks along the sea when he is out strolling. Her presence is somewhat mysterious and it’s not clear what she means to Koji.
IF YOU GO: “Tokyo Fish Story,” is on stage through June 26, 2016 at Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park. Tickets from $29. (619) 23-GLOBE. theoldglobe.org