Playwright Kimber Lee (“To the Yellow House”) said she looked inward when creating her unusual and charming “Tokyo Fish Story,” directed by May Adrales at The Old Globe through June 26.
“When I was in college, my parents had a little café and it was non-stop work,” she said. “I love food and eating sushi, but I was completely ignorant of the tradition behind the craft, so I first came to sushi as a consumer and a fan. I read some books and saw documentary films, and the more I learned about it, the more I became fascinated by the minute attention to detail and the amount of effort, forethought and concentration that goes into producing this small piece of food that is meant to be consumed in that moment.”
Her new-found knowledge reminded her of the elements of theater. “Making sushi is just like making theatre ... we are creating this thing that can only be consumed in the moment of its making on the stage,” Lee said.
Her play is set in Japan at the restaurant owned by Master Sushi Chef Koji (James Saito), considered one of the greatest in Tokyo. But new trends and techniques are drawing his customers elsewhere. He has only his skilled protégé Takashi (Tim Chiou) to help him, but will Koji give Takashi the freedom he needs?
“The mentor and protégé aspect really intrigued me,” Lee said. “Takashi is incredibly gifted with a long experience with sushi, however, his abilities reach beyond the forms and restrictions that exist in Koji’s world. He is grappling with how to honor his father, but at the same time, have the growth that happens to others in the restaurant, to do something very beautiful.
“I find in some relationships, people who are very close can communicate with each other without even speaking. It’s a communication through just a look, and it’s always fascinating to me. It’s an interest of mine to come up with ways of putting that on stage, so all of us can be in on the meaning of that look. I find this to be very powerful.”
Lee said she’s happy about working with director Adrales. “We’ve known each other in New York for a few years now,” Lee said. “She’s directed a lot of work for playwright friends of mine. She’s fantastic, and she’s also someone The Old Globe was really excited to work with. All the timing worked out great.”
The cast includes: Tina Chilip (Ama Miyuki and Woman), Tim Chiou (Takashi), Raymond Lee (Nobu), James Saito (Koji); and Jon Norman Schneider (Tuna Dealer Apprentice, Oishi, Toru, Yuji, Daisuke and Hirayama).
In this production, Lee is excited about the use of real fish. “Anyone who likes a good story about family will enjoy this show,” she said. “Because although the situation seems to be very particular, detailed and set in Tokyo, the restaurant and those kinds of things have a push/pull of love and frustration. All the similar stuff we have with our own families is something that anybody can relate to.”
IF YOU GO: “Tokyo Fish Story” runs through June 26 at the White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park. Tickets from $29. (619) 23-GLOBE. TheOldGlobe.org