The Fukutani-Komiyamas are your typical middle-class Pasadena family. Mom Nancy is a divorced single mother and successful attorney. Teenaged Jason is a high school student who’d rather listen to his iPod and play video games on his laptop than write the university essay his mom is always on his case about. “Why don’t you just bang me over the head with a blunt object,” retorts his frustrated mom when Jason informs her that his essay is (pointing at head) “up here.” Grandpa Harry shares digs with daughter and grandson, the better to provide Jason with a mature male influence. Yes, the Fukutani-Komiyamas are your typical middle-class Pasadena family with one exception.
No, it’s not that they’re Japanese Americans, though perhaps that’s one reason Grandpa is living with them and not in a retirement home.
What sets the Fukutani-Komiyamas apart from their friends and neighbors is Grandpa’s post-retirement job. He’s a porn star, a 73-year-old star of made-for-Japan “Elder Porn,” one of the most popular subgenres in a country which loves its fetishes.
Wrinkles is playwright Paul Kikuchi’s sitcom about the kuso that hits the fan when Grandpa’s side-job is found out to his daughter’s horror and his grandson’s considerable awe and admiration. Now getting its World Premiere (appropriately in the heart of Little Tokyo), Wrinkles provides eighty minutes of semi-risqué mirth, and what it lacks in sophistication, it pretty much makes up for in laughter.
A mysterious Trader Joe’s bag provides the first clue to Harry’s double life, a buzzing vibrator-like sound that leads Nancy to wonder if Jason just might be a gay boy with urges only a particular kind of toy can fulfill. Then there’s the package that arrives addressed to Hideo Yutani, one which contains a toy gumball machine appearing to dispense not bubble gum but some kind of pharmaceutical. Finally, the arrival of a mini-skirt-and-boots-wearing sex kitten named Teena (with two E’s) ends any doubt there may have been up till now. Teena is Harry/Hideo’s costar in “adult videos” with titles like Sensei And Sensibility and Lady And The Gramps, and she’s come by with news of their upcoming (pardon the pun) shoot.
In time-tested sitcom fashion, Kikuchi’s characters often converse as if aiming to set off a laugh track. (“You never say ‘Mother’ unless it’s followed by the F-word.” Jason: Grandpa, you don’t use a cane. Teena: He does, but not for walking.) Fortunately, the majority of these jokes pay off, and if sitcom humor isn’t quite what East West Players should be shooting for, Wrinkles has a number of things going in its favor.
First and foremost, it’s an Asian-American sitcom, and just how many of these have you seen recently? Certainly none on TV since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl, and more than fifteen years have passed since “Margaret Kim” and her Korean-American family graced the airwaves. It’s downright refreshing to see this underrepresented demographic given their sitcom star turns. Secondly, though the Fukutani-Komiyama’s are first of all Americans, Wrinkles’ plot owes a great deal to their Asianness. There really is a Hideo Yutani-like senior-citizen porn star (a certain Shigeo Tokuda) in Japan, a country with the highest percentage of people over 65 in the world. Harry’s certainty that his videos are for Japanese release only is undoubtedly a factor in his decision to do porn. Finally, were the Fukutani-Komiyamas Anglo, the likelihood of their taking in a senior family member might be considerably slimmer, especially one with a serious gambling problem.
Another reason that Wrinkles succeeds as well as it does is the ring of truth in its family relationships, particularly in its depiction of the love that binds these three very different people. Harry’s recollections of his wife’s battle with cancer, and his desire to “seize every moment” since her death, ring poignantly true. And when was the last time you saw a play that presented a 73-year-old as a still vital man with a still active sex drive?
On a less positive note, Jason’s repeated insistence that “I’m not gay!” and the horror he seems to feel at the mere possibility that he might be (all of this played for laughs) hardly sends a gay-positive message, despite Nancy’s reassurance that “it would be all right if you were.” 86 the cheap gay jokes … please!
Under Jeff Liu’s sprightly direction, Wrinkles zips by, particularly as performed by its all-around terrific cast.
Sab Shimono brings decade upon decade of life and stage experience to the role of Harry/Hideo, and this original cast member of Broadway’s Mame and Pacific Overtures and longtime East West Players star proves himself a whiz at comic timing and quite touching in Harry’s more reflective moments.
Amy Hill (Nancy) too is an icon in the Asian American community, with countless film-TV-stage credits including acclaimed solo performance pieces. No stranger to the East West Players stage, Hill finally gets to play her age (she was Margaret Cho’s grandma at age 41 and a Japanese Obaasan in EWP’s Voices From Okinawa a few years back). As Nancy, Hill not only doesn’t miss a laugh, she gives Harry’s flabbergasted daughter a depth that a less talented actress might gloss over.
Elizabeth Ho won a Scenie last year for her Outstanding Performance By A Lead Actress/Comedy in Lodestone’s Grace Kim And The Spiders From Mars. As Teena, she’s a sexy ball of fire, a charismatic stage presence, and a sparkling comedienne, making the Nisei porn star so adorable that any objections to her mode of moneymaking are likely to fall on deaf ears.
Completing the cast as Jason is Ki Hong Lee, a promising newcomer who more than holds his own among older, more experienced company, proving himself an absolute charmer as the spunky teen.
Wrinkles is one of the best looking East West Players productions ever, beginning with Alan E. Muraoka’s ready-to-move-into Pasadena home, modern, elegant, spic-n-span, and with just the right sprinkling of Asian touches thanks to property master Ken Takemoto. Dan Weingarten lights Muraoka’s set to subtle, imaginative perfection, and Soojin Lee’s costumes are exactly what each character would have put in his or her shopping cart. Dennis Yen’s sound design is mostly fine, though cell phone ring tones appear to be coming from the audience and not from the stage. Jaclyn Kalkhurst is stage manager.
East West Players’ duo of season openers, Mysterious Skin and Crimes Of The Heart, are hard acts to follow, and if Wrinkles doesn’t reach their level of excellence, it’s nonetheless an entertaining (and maybe even conversation-provoking) laugh-getter. Bring the grandparents. They might have a thing or two to tell you on the way home from the theater.
East West Players, David Henry Hwang Theatre, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles.
February 16, 2011
Photos: Michael Lamont