Nothing Is The Same from the moment four 1941 Hawaiian preteens witness the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor one sunny December morning in the latest audience-pleasing entry in Sierra Madre Playhouse’s annual Field Trip Series, staged on school days to local kids and on weekends to general audiences of all ages.

 Playwright Y Yang introduces us to a trio of inseparable besties—Filipino-American George, Korean-American Bobi, and perhaps most significantly, Japanese-American Mits—whose game of marbles is interrupted when Korean-American fourth wheel Daniel arrives to remind them how much Mits’s family’s Buddhist faith sets him apart from the three non-Japanese Christians.

 However much Daniel’s taunts may sting the Samurai-proud Mits, however, they pale in comparison to his friends’ reactions when bombers sent across the Pacific fill the morning sky with blinding flashes and deafening booms, and before long the foursome’s sole Japanese-American member finds himself called “spy” and worse.

 As shifting loyalties turn friends into outsiders and outsiders into friends, George, Bobi, Mits, and Daniel learn life lessons even more valuable in today’s post-2016-election world than they were when Nothing Is The Same made its 2003 Hawaiian debut.

 All of this is told over the course of a kids-friendly sixty-five minutes in the charmingly musical patois that is Hawaiian Pidgin (“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about” becomes “She don know what she stay talking about.”), fine-tuned by dialect coach Kelsey James Kapono Chock, whose choreography transforms a couple of marbles competitions and one particularly hair-raising rescue sequence into Hawaiian hula at its most graceful and evocative.

 Hawaiian-born Tim Dang directs two distinct casts with abundant verve, and whether you see Cedric “Ikaika” Jonathan or Melvin Biteng* as George, Chloe Madriaga or Asia Ring as Bobi, Kurt Kanazawa or Yeng Kong Thao as Mits, or On Shiu or Tristen Kim as Daniel, you can rest assured you will be charmed, delighted, and moved by eight of the most talented Asian-American up-and-comers in town.

 Nothing Is The Same looks storybook perfect on scenic designer Tesshi Nakagawa’s rainbow-colored set, painted by Hillary Bauman and Orlando de la Paz and lit with vibrancy and flair by Derek Jones as are Emily Hopfauf’s just-right props (including cat’s-eye marble, samurai sword, inner tubes, and more) and Tanya Apuya’s appropriately weathered Islanders’ wear, with sound director Howard Ho giving the production both realistic and magical effects alongside a ukulele-based musical underscoring so evocative of the Islands, you can almost feel Hawaiian breezes blow.

Nothing Is The Same is produced by Estelle Campbell. Christina Lebano is co-producer. Kristin Bolinski is stage manager. Todd McCraw is technical director.

It’s not just school children—10,000 and counting since Sierra Madre Playhouse initiated its Field Trip Series four seasons ago—who will find themselves both entertained and informed. Nothing Is The Same is the best kind of Theater For Young Audience, i.e. theater for audiences of all ages, not to mention races, religions, nationalities, ethnicities, and more.

*Mauka cast members listed first, Makai cast listed second.

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Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre. Through March 4. Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30. Also Saturdays Febuary 23 and March 3 at 8:00. Reservations: 626 355-4318

–Steven Stanley
January 27 and 28, 2018
Photos: Gina Long

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