Firehall Arts Centre, Tashme Productions, April 2 - 13

My Two Cents

The Tashme Project: The Living Archives is a gentle, moving and occasionally funny documentary theatre piece about a deeply shameful part of Vancouver’s history. The story follows personal accounts from Nisei (2nd generation Japanese-Canadians) about how they were uprooted from their lives following the historic attack on Pearl Harbour (and Canada's subsequent declaration of war on Japan). Their families were rounded up, stripped of their most precious belongings, their homes, their businesses, and eventually sent to Tashme, an interment camp just past Hope, BC now known as Sunshine Valley, where they endured harsh conditions for several years before returning home to Vancouver or leaving for Japan. 


Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa have unearthed firsthand accounts from Tashme survivors who were children at the time of their interment. The play has a dream-like quality to it - characters, portrayed by Manning and Miwa, blend and flow into one another. It took some time to wrap my head around these two playing all the characters, including dramatized versions of themselves. It never exactly felt easy to differentiate all the Nisei, especially with the lack of names attached to the dialogue. I also felt as though the material could have delved deeper, but these are the constraints of verbatim theatre. Not to mention, the Nisei are very reserved about their experience, and as one of them puts it (I’m paraphrasing): “We were children, it wasn’t as bad for us.” Manning is a tender and captivating performer, with a grandmotherly affection but also a sense of childlike innocence. She pours out humour and heart like hot tea. Miwa tends to overact when he’s playing the Nisei, but displays remarkable vulnerability in his most honest role - himself. 


Despite the heavy subject matter, the show doesn’t drag or feel long. It’s 75 minutes, without intermission, and the actors remain present and connected throughout (I’ll forgive Miwa’s hamminess for the insistent energy he brings to the material). There are some truly beautiful artistic touches too, from the unfolding of the letters, to the projections of old photographs. The video, lighting and set design are at once detailed and simple, tasteful and elegant (kudos to the design team of George Allister, David Perreault Ninacs, Patrick Andrew Boivin, James Lavoie and Laurence Mongeau). No element feels out of place; they all blend together seamlessly. 


It’s an immense project of such great import to the Japanese-Canadian community in Vancouver, but also to Vancouverites and Canadians (like myself) who are perhaps unfamiliar with this terrible series of events in our province’s history. Manning and Miwa mention in their notes that internment just wasn’t ever spoken about in their families and only by actively asking the Nisei about it for this “project” were they finally able to hear about it. Clearly an incredible amount of work and passion have gone into this piece. As a result, The Tashme Project is a respectful, educational and enlightening piece of theatre that deserves to be seen and heard. 

-Lillian Jasper