One-hundred years ago today, John Okada was born in Seattle. It’s also a day on which I can finally reveal that I’m developing the script for a new theater adaption of Okada’s landmark novel, No-No Boy.
For four days this week I’ve had the privilege of working with the Seattle Rep, our flagship regional theater, under the auspices of “The Other Season,” its New Plays series. The Rep hired the brilliant theater director Desdemona Chiang to work with me and a talented cast of professional Equity actors. Under union rules we were not allowed to advertise or talk about the workshop until it was over.
We assembled Monday evening for a first cold reading. The cast included Los Angeles actor Daisuke Tsuji who was brought in to help develop the voice of Ichiro, the play’s protagonist, and a number of actors very familiar to local theater audiences: Ray Tagavilla, Annie Yim, Michael Wu, Morgan Gwilym Tso, Aya Hashiguchi Clark, and Adele Lim — an all-Asian American cast, in many cases doubling for all the roles in the script.
On the second day, I came back with a few rewrites and we read it again as Des worked with the actors beat-by-beat and challenged me with questions to clarify the action. By the end of the third day the cast made one critical suggestion that, as Des put it, “drove a truck” through the ending, which I took home and wrote for the final reading.
On Thursday, Sept. 21, the cast read the work-in-progress before a private, invited audience of nearly 75 friends, theater staff, and board trustees in the Rep’s black box theater, the PONCHO Forum.
I trained as an actor and director at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco 50 years ago with Allen Fletcher, who had come there after serving as the second artistic director of the Seattle Repertory Theater in 1966, so to work within the same institution as Mr. Fletcher was a full-circle moment for me. Even better, Allen Fletcher’s protege and my favorite acting teacher from that time, David Hammond, provided valuable feedback on this early draft.
To get to this point I must acknowledge some key players. I was commissioned two years ago to write this adaptation by a remarkable patron of the theater and fan of the novel, Megan Pursell of Ballard and her husband Greg.
I started intensive work on the script in October 2022 during a month-long residency at the Centrum Foundation in Port Townsend, thanks to Ms. George Marie and Michelle Hagewood. I finished this first draft during the month of August at the Willapa Bay Artist-in-Residence program, thanks to founding director Cyndy Hayward. And this project would not have come to the Rep without the unflagging advocacy and leadership of board trustee Elaine Ikoma Ko.
This was a table reading of a new adaptation of the novel from the ground up without reference to anything previous. If it moves ahead, it would be perfected and fully realized first in Seattle before consideration of anything to follow. In the end, audiences will be the sole arbiter of what works, and further work lies ahead. A lot of it. Watch this space, but it can take two years to plan and schedule a production for any regional theater, so all I can say now with any certainty is to stay tuned.