Nothing is the Same

Thought-provoking and moving, Nothing is the Same originated from the oral histories of Hawaii residents who were children living in Wahiawa, a rural Oahu village, when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor. The plot of the play follows four children whose lives are forever changed when they are forced from the innocence of a churchyard game of marbles into the terrifying reality of bombers overhead, teargas and bigotry. They try to make sense of the world, and their place in it, in the midst of intense upheaval. Loyalty is questioned and friendships are tested, but in the end they learn what it means to belong—to a group of friends, a community and a country.

Nothing is the Same deals with both the everyday travails of childhood and the larger social concerns during a time of crisis—who belongs to a country, who should be feared, what consequences, if any, should there be for an outsider,” said SCT Artistic Director Linda Hartzell. “This play allows us a glimpse of Hawaiian history, of racial structures in a place filled with diversity, that we can relate to the divisions and prejudices we face in our own community.”

Nothing is the Same premiered at HTY in October 2004 to acclaim and was remounted in September 2005. SCT will use the same four actors from HTY’s most recent production who will deliver the play in Hawaiian Pidgin, the language created by the many different immigrants who moved to Hawaii to work on the plantations. Mark Lutwak, who recently gave up the reins as HTY artistic director, will direct.

Of the world-premiere production, Derek Paiva of the Honolulu Advertiser wrote: “The result is a script brimming with moments of knowing humor, unexpected terror and deep sadness.”

Of HTY’s second production, Joseph T. Rozmiarek of the Honolulu Advertiser found Nothing is the Same to be “a unique view of history and a story in which friendship triumphs over violence and bigotry. It is also a tight package that should travel successfully to Seattle audiences.”

Nothing is the Same was written as a culmination of HTY’s “December 7, 1941 Project,” a three-year oral history project that began in Oahu’s Wahiawa Elementary School, in which elders of the community were interviewed by the students who, in turn, created their own plays. Supported by funding from Theatre Communications Group and Pew Charitable Trusts, York helped the students develop interview skills, participated in the oral history collection and wrote her own fictional play based on the collected experiences.

“People hand you their lives, like pieces of china,” said York. “You should be careful with them, but you can’t be careful when you’re writing a play. It has to have danger. The path of the play is littered with broken china.”

Husband and wife team Lutwak and York have worked on many productions together at HTY, where York was playwright-in-residence and Lutwak artistic director. Four of York’s plays premiered at SCT, including Afternoon of the Elves, which opened SCT’s inaugural season in the Charlotte Martin Theatre in 1993; the Portrait the Wind the Chair in 1995; Frog and Toad in 1998; and Mask of the Unicorn Warrior in 2001. York has written many plays for children and adults, which have been produced nationwide.

Oahu, Hawaii, 1941, is a great place to be an 11-year-old kid. The town is filled with people who come from all over the world; the sailors at Pearl Harbor are usually good for a candy bar or toy; and you can always find someone to play with. Mits and George are best friends, and Bobi usually hangs out with them too—she’s okay, for a girl. The kids all love to hear Mits tell stories of his ancestors, the samurai, brave Japanese warriors of old. As the kids play, they pretend to channel the samurai strength and courage. This attention to Mits and the enticing tales of his heritage makes Daniel, the bully, jealous. Yet, their easy, carefree life goes on day to day, until December 7.

In the midst of another games of marbles, the children hear the rumble of planes overhead, and their world changes forever. In the days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, they come together to talk about what they’ve seen and how they are. When Daniel accuses Mits of being a spy and signaling the bombers, Bobi believes him and turns her back on her friend. George, however, stays true and even helps Mits hide some of his family’s ancestral relics. Daniel’s hostility gets more intense and threatening to Mits and his family. Due to the tension in the community and the suspicion and panic all around him, George lets his own fear take hold, and he, too, abandons his friend. Bobi, however, realizes the mistake she’s made—after all, despite her earlier betrayal, Mits still takes time to teach her to swim.

The loss of George’s friendship hits Mits hard; he tries to reclaim his lost courage and samurai-strength by removing his gas mask in a teargas drill. The danger and desperation of this act help George realize his foolishness in deserting his best friend. Not wanting to be outdone by Mits’ bravery, Daniel decides to go swimming by himself, even though he doesn’t know how. After Mits swallows his fear, he plunges into the water and saves Daniel from drowning. All the kids come to realize that, regardless of where they are from, they’re all together now; the same—friends.

The cast for Nothing is the Same includes Reb Allen as Daniel, Troy M. Apostol as Mits, BullDog as George and Jacquie C.Y. Yang as Bobi. The production features set design by Alfredo Lista Garma, costume design by Casey Cameron, lighting design by Geoff Korf, sound design by Babatunji Heath and properties design by Sara Ward.

By Leah B. Green
The Seattle Times, October 29, 2005

Though some might think of Hawaii as a sunny holiday getaway, the state also holds a rich history of mixing cultures and languages. So does Seattle Children's Theatre, which has brought Hawaii to the mainland with "Nothing Is the Same," originally performed at Honolulu Theatre for Youth.

Written by former Seattleite Y York, "Nothing Is the Same" holds a lot of good lessons (on diversity, on community) for young minds to chew on. They are presented here with careful humor and playful physicality that helps bridge the culture gap.

The play takes us not only across the sea to Wahiawa, Oahu; but also back in time to Dec. 7, 1941.

York goes back to the lives of four children living on the island on that fateful day — imagining how four kids of different ethnicities might have responded to that rude incursion on their secluded world. Though the play is fictional, York built it on a community-history project involving Wahiawan students and their ancestors who survived Pearl Harbor.

As went 1941 Hawaii, so go the characters in the play — which means that the kids speak exclusively in the Hawaiian dialect commonly known as Pidgin, which takes English, scrambles the prepositions a bit, and adds a lot of foreign words from disparate sources.

This biggest challenge for a young audience lies here. On top of dealing with the tough issues of the play ("Why is the government arresting all the Japanese people?") they must focus to understand what's going on.

The Hawaiian cast, under the direction of Mark Lutwak, successfully articulates their meaning with a mixture of excellent diction and heightened physicality. Still, there was plenty of nudge-nudge "Mom, what are they saying?" business on the evening I went.

Kids should be old enough to concentrate on the task when coming to the play (SCT recommends 8 and up).

If they do, they will see the four characters — Bobi, Mits, Daniel and George — mimicking the prejudices of the greater world. They shun the Japanese kid and "Americanize" to avoid suffering the same fate, but eventually come to see the value of accepting everyone in their community.

It's an important lesson for an audience of kids who are similarly growing up in a "wartime America," and York avoids the many pitfalls. The play is funny, charming and tightly written, without being over-serious.

The ideal result was something like this dialogue, overheard at intermission. Kid: "Mom, why are they talking funny?" Mom: "Because they speak a dialect." Kid: "What's a dialect?"

Questions and learning being one mark of good children's theater (along with laughter and sitting still), "Nothing Is the Same" can be called a success.

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Nothing Is The Same

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