Julia Sanford, from left, Alicia Foo and Sachiyo K in "War Bride." (Heidi Marie Photography )
Bigotry, paranoia and violence lurking beneath the frayed comforts of home and hearth roll out a less than hospitable welcome mat to the reluctant “War Bride” at the center of Samantha Macher’s new psychological drama from SkyPilot Theatre.
The play’s setting in Merced, Calif., at the close of World War II is so literally steeped in mom and apple pie that one of the more astute residents, divorcee Catherine Rhodes (Julia Sanford), wonders if the housewives there do anything besides baking.
Merced was also the site of a wartime internment camp for Japanese Americans, however, and the associated mindset of intolerance only sharpens Catherine’s antagonism when her wounded soldier son Alvin (Brett Fleisher) returns home with his new wife, Yumi (Sachiyo K), a Japanese nurse who speaks no English.
Despite her initial prejudice, Catherine’s maternal sympathies give way to deepening suspicions that way-too-chipper Alvin is hiding something — a dark secret that Yumi seems desperately trying to reveal through scribbled messages hidden inside origami cranes. With the help of a battered Japanese dictionary and her sympathetic widower friend (Jeffrey Markle), Catherine sets out to decipher the truth, no matter how unpleasant.
Macher’s storytelling remains taut and gripping throughout (occasional anachronisms notwithstanding). Director-choreographer Nancy Dobbs Owen furthers the mounting dread with a Butoh-inspired chorus of writhing ghosts depicting Yumi’s inner torment, though a little goes a long way with this stylized technique.
Having them simultaneously voice the English translations of Yumi’s insults renders them incomprehensible in both languages — fortunately, Sachiyo K’s expressive performance leaves no doubt as to Yumi’s seething rage and contempt for her captor “family.” Sanford’s equally accomplished turn creates an effective balance of conflicted characters and cultures.
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“War Bride,” T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 16. $20. (800) 838-3006 or www.skypilottheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours.