THE PLAY: BITS OF PARADISE

YouTube Video

Scene from Bits of Paradise: Kochiyama's Crusaders by Marlan Warren with Ariel Kayoko Labasan
Staged Reading at Rogue Machine Theatre, Hollywood, California. Video by Michael J. Labasan
Actors: Ariel Kayoko Labasan, Douglas N. Hachiya, Scott Shima, Mack Wei, Jacky Jung, Zoe Jean Kim, and Marlan Warren.



There are two versions of this play:

Bits of Paradise: Kochiyama's Crusaders by Marlan Warren with Ariel Kayoko Labasan
Staged reading at Rogue Machine Theatre (Hollywood, CA) and Founders Metropolitan Community Church  (2017)


  • Photos by Michael J. Labasan

  • Bits of Paradise by Marlan Warren
    Abridged version presented as Reader's Theater at The Marsh Theatre (San Francisco) (2008)


(Bits of Paradise Cast: L-R Linda Wang, Pisha Warden, Connie Kim and Chanelle Yang as Mary Nakahara, aka Yuri Kochiyama).
Photo by Basile Kuo. Photo by Marlan Warren

 Bits of Paradise Review

“Not since Philip Kan Gotanda’s After the War (2007) has there been a production in The City depicting the Japanese American experience spawned by F.D.R.’s infamous Presidential Executive Order 9066, which required the internment of all continental Japanese Americans. Bits of Paradise places its footprint on the timeline of a much needed theatrical examination of the Asian American journey."--ASIAN WEEK


ASIAN WEEK – November 29, 2008

New play based on Japanese American WWII internment letters

With the commemoration of the bombing of Pearl Harbor fast approaching, local playwright Marlan Warren’s Bits of Paradise arrives at an appropriate time. Based on letters written between Japanese American girls and women in the U.S. internment camps and Japanese American soldiers during World War II, Bits of Paradise is a 20-minute piece that is slated to be a full production one day.

A culmination of eight years of researching and gathering on the subject, Warren takes on a little-known factoid in the history of the war at home. In the play, a cast of seven takes the audience back in time to the nadir of Japanese American morale. A young internee by the name of Yuri Kochiyama (born Mary Nakahara) inspired her friends to start a letter-writing campaign to the Japanese American 442nd regimental combat team to raise the boys’ spirits. The group of letter writers became known as “The Crusaders” and the play, an ode to Kochiyama, comes to fruition onstage as actors read verbatim excerpts from these missives.

The play was a lesson in history for the actors as much as a means to broaden their horizons. “I feel a sense of pride and a sense of identity,” said Jean Franco who portrayed one of the soldiers. “I wouldn’t have known about this part of history if I hadn’t done this project.”

Fifteen-year-old Chanelle Yang, who gives a spirited performance as the young Kochiyama, expressed her honor of playing this role and was inspired by the fact that Kochiyama was in the audience on opening night. (Kochiyama transitioned from writing letters to becoming a crusader of a different type — as an icon in the socio-political activist movement and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2005.)

Not since Philip Kan Gotanda’s After the War (2007) has there been a production in The City depicting the Japanese American experience spawned by F.D.R.’s infamous Presidential Executive Order 9066, which required the internment of all continental Japanese Americans. Bits of Paradise places its footprint on the timeline of a much needed theatrical examination of the Asian American journey.

Bits of Paradise plays on December 1, 7:30 p.m. at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia Street (between 20th and 21st in the Mission District), San Francisco, $7 tickets at the door. No reservations. For more info, call 415-202-0108 or visit themarsh.org/monday.


For immediate release:

Rogue Machine Theatre Hosts Staged Reading: "Bits of Paradise: Kochiyama's Crusaders" by Marlan Warren with Ariel Kayoko Labasan

At the invitation of Rogue Machine Theatre in Hollywood, "Bits of Paradise: Kochiyama's Crusaders" will be presented as a staged reading on July 19 (3pm and 8pm) and July 20 (8pm). The play, by Marlan Warren in collaboration with Ariel Kayoko Labasan focuses on a women's movement founded by renowned human rights activist Yuri Kochiyama when she was known as 20-year old "Mary Nakahara" and incarcerated in U.S. concentration camps during World War II with her fellow Japanese Americans. Calling themselves "The Crusaders," the girls and women mobilized a morale-boosting letter-writing campaign that ensured that "any soldier missing a letter" would receive mail.

"The performances will be more 'staged' than 'reading,'" explained Warren, who co-produces with Labasan, and directs the play. "Some actors may not be holding scripts, and there will be action sequences, props and costumes."

Warren originally directed and produced "Bits of Paradise" as a Reader's Theater piece at The Marsh Theatre in San Francisco in 2008.

"Bits of Paradise places its footprint on the timeline of a much-needed theatrical examination of the Asian American journey."--Asian Week

Recently, the play was reworked and re-titled "Bits of Paradise: Kochiyama's Crusaders," after Warren joined forces with actor/playwright Ariel Kayoko Labasan, whose solo show, "Yuri Speaks Out!" played to packed houses at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Labasan will reprise her role as Yuri Kochiyama, portraying the activist from ages 20 to 84.

"My first encounter with Yuri Kochiyama was while I was in New York," said Labasan. "As an actor, I was seeking out roles that made me feel braver. I searched online for 'strong Asian American women in history'...and suddenly she popped up!"

"We wish to thank Rogue Machine Theatre for this amazing opportunity," said Warren. "They are currently featuring 'Les Blancs' by Lorraine Hansberry, and their set looks exactly like the interior of a Japanese American Internment barracks."

"Before she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and before she held Malcolm X while he lay dying and before she occupied the Statue of Liberty in protest of injustice, Yuri Kochiyama was a young woman in love named Mary Nakahara whose fiancé, Bill Kochiyama, had volunteered to fight in order to prove loyalty to the U.S. while the people he loved were held in an American concentration camp.

"It sounds like a very dark time, and in fact it was," said Warren. "But the contents of The Crusaders Scrapbook in the Japanese American National Museum are full of humor and cheer and flirtations." In 2001, Warren was granted permission by JANM to adapt the scrapbook into a play for educational purposes.

The cast members are a mix of Asian American heritage, including two--Douglas N. Hachiya and Scott Shima--who have family members who fought in the legendary 442nd Combat Team.

The play is an ensemble effort, as Warren notes: "Actor Mack Wei has outfitted the men with uniforms and rifles from a short film he made, and Progressive Rags print shop owner, Radical Jack, in Miami, Fla. has donated three 'Free Mumia Abul-Jamal' t-shirts for Yuri to wear."

The young women playing The Crusaders will also appear as octogenarians being interviewed for a documentary. In fact, Warren has been making a film with the elderly "Original Crusaders" since 2008 ("What did you do in the War, Mama?: Kochiyama's Crusaders").

"Working with this material has been a healing process," said Warren. "For those whose family history incurred these scars, it is very personal. And for those of us who feel empathetic with its story of loss and love, it is also very meaningful.

More Photos from Bits of Paradise: Kochiyama's Crusaders (Los Angeles Version at Rogue Machine Theatre)

Below: Ariel Kayoko Labasan and Douglas N. Hachiya (Bottom Right) Jacky Jung and Scott Shima

                                                                                                  Ariel Kayoko Labasan and Douglas N. Hachiya (Yuri and Bill Kochiyama)
                                                                                                  Photo by Marlan Warren, copyright protected

(Top Left) Zoe Jean Kim and Mack Wei   (Bottom Right)  Jacky Jung and Scott Shima
Photos
by Marlan Warren, copyright protected

Los Angeles Cast (Play Reading at Rogue Machine and Founders Metropolitan Community Church):
Ariel Kayoko Labasan..........................Yuri Kochiyama (aka "Mary Nakahara")
Douglas N. Hachiya.............................Bill Kochiyama & Various Soldiers of 442nd Infantry
Jacky Jung...........................................Various Crusaders
Zoe Jean Kim.......................................Various Crusaders
Scott Shima..........................................Various Soldiers of 442nd Infantry
Mack Wei.............................................Various Soldiers of 442nd Infantry
Marlan Warren....................................Filmmaker





Bits of Paradise Original Cast: San Francisco

Bits of Paradise was showcased at The Marsh Theater in San Francisco in 2008.
Playwright/Producer/Director: Marlan Warren

Chanelle Yang............Mary Nakahara (Young Yuri Kochiyama)
Pisha Warden.............Hatsuye Egami/Crusader
Linda Wang...............Older Yuri Kochiyama/Crusader
Connie Kim...............Crusader
James Franco.............Soldier
Wesley Cayabab........Soldier
Wilton Yu..................Soldier


SUMMARY

Bits of Paradise is a one-act play that celebrates a little-recognized war effort of “interned” Japanese American girls and women who were held behind the barbed wire of U.S. concentration camps during World War II (aka “The Japanese American Internment”) because of their Japanese heritage. Led by 20-year old budding activist, Mary Nakahara, and calling themselves “The Crusaders,” these “prisoners of war” mounted a morale-boosting letter-writing campaign that included fun circulars that went out to “any soldier in need of a letter.” This Women’s Movement began at the start of the “internment” and ended on D-Day. The play moves back and forth in time—from Japanese American soldiers’ letters reporting horrific battle details and their effect on the young women to the future, which includes Reparation Hearings and an interview with octogenarian Mary Nakahara (now renamed “Yuri Kochiyama”) that focuses on her nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize after a lifetime of tireless civil rights activism.

 

PRODUCTION NOTES

Bits of Paradise melds a collage of voices, dance, pantomime, and song. All text is verbatim from actual correspondence in The Crusaders Scrapbook in the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) archives; Reparation Hearing testimony; and interviews. It also features monologues adapted from The Diary of Hatsuye Egami.

Basically, the play is mounted as Readers Theater with three women and three men, separated by barbed wire. The actors play multiple roles (material and characters are composites). They break the structure from time to time to perform dances or narrated pantomimes.

A full production will include back projection photos (actual letters, photos and other archival material) and videos featuring the actual Crusaders, now in their 80s, sharing their memories of this Women's Movement and their experiences as "internees" in U.S. concentration camps. These clips are from the documentary Marlan Warren produced based on Bits of Paradise: What did you do in the War, Mama?: Kochiyama's Crusaders.


Civil Rights, Women’s Rights and Anti-War Themes

Thematically, given these turbulent political times and talk of incarcerating Muslims in U.S. concentration camps, this play is more relevant than ever. In fact, when similar talk occurred in 2001 after 9/11, it was the Japanese American community that was the first to come forward to voice opposition. With Women’s Marches for women’s rights happening across the U.S., Bits of Paradise, serves as a beacon of hope for anyone who wonders how they can survive and transcend oppression.

Although The Crusaders supported their troops, they did not advocate war. In fact, the Japanese American soldiers were forced to fight to prove their “loyalty” while their families were behind held in camps, and many resisted this draft. When Mary Nakahara became Yuri Kochiyama, she said in a TV interview that her greatest wish was for all U.S.-involved wars to end.

 Educational Value

Bits of Paradise is a learning experience on both sides of the footlights. In San Francisco production, the actors were ages 16 to early 20s. Only Pisha Warden had any Japanese heritage (an interned grandmother) and the rest were of various Asian extractions. In working with the material, they had deep revelations on historical and personal levels. A shocking number of people have never heard of the "Japanese American Internment," and if they have, some may be ignorant of the inhumane details (one audience member said after the show, "I thought it was like going to summer camp...").



Yuri Kochiyama had progressive views on women's roles and male/female relationships. These come through in her writing as a Crusader, and the soldiers wrote back their side of the "debate" about pre-marital sex in wartime.


 Target Audiences

Target audiences: Teens, Women, Asian Americans, War Veterans, Asian American Studies and Women’s Studies students, and of course, those families who were directly affected by the Japanese American internment. Audience support in San Francisco ranged from Japanese Americans (who wept) to Korean Americans (Asian Week reviewer) to Chinese Americans and Filipino Americans.

San Francisco audiences—regardless of race or cultural background—were moved by The Crusaders’ story of love and courage. Older people identify with the era, and the younger identify with the joys and sorrows of these brave young people who found a way to transcend oppression. (“It’s not your position in life that counts, it’s your disposition!”)


VIDEO CLIPS

Video clips from Bits of Paradise performance (amateur video by an actor’s husband). We were unable to produce full Readers Theater style with scripts on music stands, so the actors had to hold their scripts. The show ran for two nights.

 

Part I:

YouTube Video


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77xAjg0-nTg

Part II:

YouTube Video


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZaFmh9AoNo

Part III: This is the most serious of the three segments and opens with a verbatim letter written by a Japanese American soldier to a Japanese American chaplain venting his anger and frustration.

YouTube Video


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCJvCjUG5b0

 

 













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