BY DALE LEONHART ’19
Critically acclaimed Asian American contemporary playwright Chay Yew’s two-act documentary play, “Question 27, Question 28,” opened Mount Holyoke’s theatre arts spring season. The reading illuminated the stories of Japanese Americans who were victims of forced removal and evacuation on the West Coast in the 1940s under the orders of President Roosevelt.
The stage was essentially bare, with just a chair for each actor and a stand to hold their script. This exposed style of theatre can be risky, but the cast — made up of four actors — rose to the challenge. The performers voiced over 20 characters with no sets, props or costume changes to aid them in their characterizations. The effect was a simplistic, moving performance that focused on truth and allowed for the audience to hear voices that are often underrepresented in history. “The lack of a set and props allowed for the audience to give the narratives and text their full attention,” said house manager, Grace Brunson ’19. “They might have [been] distracted from the beautifully modest performance.”
The script comes from interviews and testimonials given by those who had experienced or had a relationship with the internment camps, with the play’s title stemming from two famously controversial questions on the “loyalty questionnaire” given to the Japanese American detainees. The characters tell of their individual struggles and experiences, following their lives before, during and after being sent to internment camps.
Separated into two hour-long acts, the performance managed to hold the audience’s attention. Particularly moving was a monologue expertly delivered by Chloe Seoyoung Chung ’20, in which her character recounts a horrible childbirth experience in an internment camp. Her character was refused anaesthetics and her baby was born with permanent damage. “This is my life. I will prevail,” said Chung, her voice hardly wavering in a delivery that broke the audience’s hearts.
The audience left the reading with a new understanding of the 1940s internment. “There were multiple moments that sent chills up my spine,” said Sarah Caggiano ’19. “You could feel the emotion emanating from the actors so strongly.”
Another standout performance came from Nikki Wei ’19, who rapidly changed her physical mannerisms and speech to adapt to whichever character she was voicing. Her dramatic monologues were powerful, but Wei was at her best when playing her more brash characters. Wei commanded the stage, constantly transforming her sitting positions and stature, impressively finding levity and humor in otherwise dark moments.
Lu Yan ’21 and Clara Honigberg ’21 were equally impressive, each possessing moments of strength during their performances.
“I knew about internment camps before working with the show from history class in high school, but hearing the experiences of people who actually lived in the camps performed really showed me the strong human impact they had,” said Brunson.
The show closed with an instrumental version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” a nod to the fact that as a nation, we do not always live up to the exemplary values that we claim. Of Yew’s message, Wei said, “The aim of this piece isn’t to place blame on anyone, but to remind people that this has happened, and to prevent the occurrence of a similar event. It’s not just about Japanese Americans, but about America itself. We’re all in [this country] together.”