Mark Sakamoto’s ever-relevant memoir of the experiences his grandparents had during Japanese internment in Canada, and as a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp, is taking to the stage this month from Theatre Calgary.
The 2018 Canada Reads winning novel, transformed to the stage by Governor General Literary Award winner Hiro Kanagawa, is playing at the Max Bell Theatre from March 7 through April 1.
“It feels incredibly meaningful to be part of a project like this, and it also feels like a big responsibility to share this Canadian history,” said Yoshie Bancroft, who plays Mitsue Sakamoto.
“I think that it’s important to me, that folks come away with new knowledge about something that they maybe didn’t previously know about. If that sparks a conversation, that’s fantastic, and it also might lead into conversations about where systemic oppression exists and oppression and racism exist in our society today.”
Mitsue Sakamoto, Mark Sakamoto’s grandmother, lost everything from her life in Vancouver when she was interned in Alberta to serve on sugar beet farms.
Griffin Cork, an actor originally from Calgary who joined Bancroft in the previous Vancouver run of the production, is playing Ralph MacLean, Mark Sakamoto’s grandfather. MacLean was captured during the defence of Hong Kong by Canadian Forces in WW2, and was kept as a prisoner of war in Japan.
Cork said the play was perfectly constructed for the stage by Kanagawa from Sakamoto’s work.
“It’s a real roller coaster, right? Its ups and downs, and there are downs as there are downs just in life,” he said.
“But the way that the I think the cast performs, and the way that the script is written, and the direction from Stafford [Arima] it’s a lot of surprise laughs I would say,” Cork said.
“I think everyone should kind of be in their emotions, You get to be sad when it’s sad, but it’s it’s not a hard viewing. There’s hard moments, but it ends on a really lovely note.”
That levity in moments of a story that is also important to be told, said Bancroft, was something that provides a counterbalance for the audience and for the performers.
“You can’t have one without the other, successfully,” Bancroft said.
Show comes to Calgary from a successful Vancouver run
Forgiveness is a joint production between Theatre Calgary and the Arts Club Theatre Company of Vancouver. They recently completed a successful run of the play on the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.
Bancroft said that she was excited to see which parts of the performance resonate with Calgarians.
“In Vancouver, we did the show maybe like 50 times or so. I was curious as a performer to leave it alone for a couple of weeks and come back and see what new energy or interpretations of certain lines and what new stuff might come up to the surface,” she said.
“It’s gonna be exciting to see how they resonate here and what shifts and what changes and how as a performer that will impact me.”
Cork said that for many individuals, the fact that it happened in Alberta would be illuminating.
“I had learned the very base amount of internment camps in school but going to B.C. and working with the Nikkei Foundation and all the folks in B.C sharing their knowledge of their personal experiences or of their family members. It’s shocking, it’s eye-opening, it’s disheartening, and it’s sad,” Cork said.
He said that as an actor there was a lot of pressure, much of it that he has put upon himself, to get the performance of Ralph MacLean right.
“There is a duty I think that you owe to the family, especially when 40 to 50 family members will be there on opening night,” Cork said.
“It’s also really rewarding. Our playwright passed on a lovely little story where one of the family member’s daughters, a seven-year-old girl was like, ‘I didn’t know grandpa MacLean looked like that when he was younger.'”
And for Bancroft, it’s also about bringing the truthfulness to characters that were real people.
“I mean, we do our best I think as performers within this story, with the understanding that all of these people are real… to find the truth within the script, in the words on the page,” she said.
Forgiveness was directed by Stafford Arima, set design by Pam Johnson, costume design by Joanna Yu, lighting design by John Webber, sound design by Joshua D. Reid, video design and animation by Cindy Mochizuki, and original compositions by Reza Jacobs.
Tickets are available now at www.theatrecalgary.com/shows/2022-2023-forgiveness.