Two chairs, scripts, music stands and performers set the stage for the story depicting a shunned part of history.
“BLOCK 8” is the story of Ken, a young Japanese-American, read by Bryan Kido, and Ada, a white librarian at the Topaz internment camp in Delta, read by Anita Booher. Throughout the course of the play, the definition of true loyalty is contested between the two as Ken must settle his priorities.
Unlike traditional plays, the performance of “BLOCK 8” involved no props, music, extras or scenery. The imagination was the setting.
The play takes place shortly after Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor. Ken is mortified when a few days later, his family is given an “evacuation notice” and transported from Berkeley, Calif., to Topaz. There, he and his family are assigned a specific apartment, or block, to live in. His is block eight.
He soon meets the public librarian, Ada, who is at first crass with Ken and his apathetic lifestyle. She berates him for believing that suffering is just part of life. However, she soon begins to understand him, his dealing with racism and the resulting apathy towards the government. A mother-son relationship develops.
He gets a chance to prove his patriotism to the U.S. when the government issues a draft throughout the camps. But, Ken cannot decide if war is a way to prove his loyalty. He does not feel he has to sign a piece of paper and volunteer for the front lines to prove allegiance to the country he has lived in his whole life. Ada disagrees.
An argument ensues over what true loyalty is when she receives a letter about her son. He was shot in duty. The argument erupts into a fight. Ada bursts into tears. Ken apologizes and leaves her alone. In the next scene, Ken tells Ada that he signed up for active duty. Ada hesitantly congratulates him, but is concerned.
“Did I press you into doing this?” Ada asked.
“Yes,” Ken said through tears.
The final scene then depicts Ken in Asia with the 442 regimental combat team. This team was composed exclusively of Japanese-Americans. He makes his first kill and sadly, coldly, said, “Loyalty,” giving into the forced idea.
Lawson Inada, a poet laureate from Fresno, Calif., who was placed in a camp when he was 3, said the play was more than just two people. It represented many true stories that developed at this time. Ada was like so many who assumed the falsehood that all Japanese were loyal to the Empire of Japan, and not to America. Ken, like many Japanese, believed in Karma and being loyal to loved ones first.
Jerry Rapier, play director, said the play is intended to educate many of forgotten history.
“Sadly, the reason the play exists … is because this experience is not a part of high school curriculum,” Rapier said.
Matthew Bennett wrote the play with Rapier and, through extensive research, was surprised at how much really happened in three blotted out years.
“That changed my idea about what the United States were,” Bennett said.
In optimism, Inada said the play also depicted how many cared for those who were forced into these camps.
“The world always needs more empathy,” Inada said.
In conjunction with “Block 8”, the “Topaz: Artists in Internment” exhibit will continue through Feb. 10 at the Rio Gallery in Salt Lake City. The Topaz Museum will open soon in Delta.