JUNE 2023 | Volume 228
Photo Credit: Chelsey Stuyt Photography.
Playwright Leah Nanako Winkler drew from personal experiences to write God Said This, crafting a self-contained tale of reconciliation amidst tragedy. With undeniable emotional impact and unique charm, the story follows Hiro, the eldest daughter of a mixed-race family in Kentucky, as she returns to her hometown to visit her ailing mother, Masako. The homecoming becomes a belated family reunion, uniting Hiro with her younger sister Sophie and their father James, a recovering alcoholic.
Maki Yi brings a touching and grounded portrayal to Masako, embodying a sunny disposition in the face of palpable pain and a bleak prognosis. Masako's unwavering spirit is the catalyst that brings the family together, with much of the play's action taking place within her hospital room. Set designer Alaia Hamer's minimalistic approach cleverly emphasizes the hospital room, anchoring it on one side of the stage and marking all other spaces in the family's world with its inescapable presence. With the use of two chairs and a dreamy backdrop of pink and blue skies, the other half of the set transitions seamlessly from waiting rooms to cars to different venues. This versatile set design allows for some experimentation, like the inclusion of James' Alcoholics Anonymous meetings where monologues, earnestly delivered by Anthony F. Ingram, are directly addressed to the audience.
Like James tracing his near-death experience to confront his alcoholism and abusive past, the play fleshes out characters through their own anecdotes. Similarly, Stephanie Wong's Sophie movingly shares with Hiro her inability to have children, explaining the tremendous loss it represents in her life. Dialogue captures each family member's anxieties around mortality's ticking clock. Nanako Winkler is skilled in imbuing each character with unique preoccupations and teasing out dialogue that highlights the dysfunction among them.
Clashing aspects of personalities resonate strongly: Sophie's affirmation of her newfound Christian faith despite her sister’s teasing; or both parents, to the sisters' mild annoyance and perplexity, finding solace in niche Facebook groups, one for rock collecting and the other humorously named Tumor Has It, a support group for cancer patients. Infusions of levity in their interactions balance the family's challenging circumstances.
The talented actors contribute to the play's humor amid life-altering events. Yoshie Bancroft brings complexity to the dismissive and self-indulgent Hiro. Her conversations with old classmate John, played hilariously by Sebastien Archibald, deliver some of the play's funniest exchanges while offering genuine glimpses into both characters’ loneliness and deep-seated guilt. Contrary to Hiro's expectations of a womanizing, partying, small-town mindset, John surprises her as a single father with ambitious academic pursuits, consumed by concerns about his child, and offering reflections on parenting that prove bittersweet to Hiro’s ears. “I fucked up, John, I’m running out of time,” confesses Hiro to the quippy but insightful John with a line that reflects on her self-destructive behaviours, the guilt around missed time with her family, and the unreconciled trauma that underscores it all.
Amid changing dynamics and sobering realizations, Hiro finds herself adrift in her hometown. In God Said This, each family member undergoes a personal journey profoundly impacted by Masako’s illness. Subtly intertwining complex elements like intergenerational trauma, faith, addiction, and the cultural nuances of a mixed-race small-town family, the play gradually navigates towards a heartbreaking and affirming equilibrium within the dysfunction of its characters' lives.Reviewed by Angie Rico
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