Q&A With Playwright Chiori Miyagawa
In “I Came to Look for You on Tuesday,” the new play by Chiori Miyagawa at LaMama, Etc., a man returns to his childhood home, from which he was untimely ripped by war at age 7, and wonders if his mother was happy. His wife insists that she must have had some happy days in the 29 years since the day she last saw him, waving as he boarded a bus filled with refugee children. “Because there is always the possibility of reunion,” says the wife. “With loved ones or with their memories or even with a house one grew up in for seven years.”
Though Miyagawa’s play is indeterminate in location and the nature of catastrophe — the vignette above was inspired by the kinder transport that ferried Jewish children to safety during the Holocaust — the Japanese-born playwright says that she began thinking about people torn asunder by disaster after the earthquake and tsunami devastated her native country in 2011. In the course of doing research for the play, a tornado subsequently hit Joplin, Missouri, and then Miyagawa herself lived through Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. “But it’s not about natural disasters,” said the playwright of her work. “It’s about what it means to be reunited with loved ones.”
Thus, a year ago, with Alice Reagan, the director of “Tuesday,” Miyagawa organized a series of salons to share personal reunion stories with a myriad of individuals. They took place in various locations, including at New Dramatists, where the play was developed, as well as at a Sheepshead Bay house still showing the damage of Hurricane Sandy. ARTINFO recently spoke with Miyagawa about the human impulse for reunion.
What was the genesis of your play?
I read a story years ago, and I don’t quite remember the details, but it was about a man driving somewhere on a highway and he goes to get gas at a gas station and he pays for it with a credit card. And the gas station owner turned out to be his birth father. And just by this freak accident they had this reunion. And I have thought about that for a long time. And in my play, theirs is a scene between a daughter who is a child of war and a father who has given her up for adoption. She has longed to be reunited with her birth parents and then one day her father walks into a flower shop where she works and she realizes from the name on the credit card that it is her birth father.
Although you didn’t use any of the salon stories, how did they provide emotional subtext?
That reunions are not always happy. They can be poignant and sometimes downright disappointing. But the concept of reunion is a constant hope for someone. So if someone was in love deeply when they were 16, they stay in love with this person that they have not seen for 20 years and then will probably not see again. Which in that case results in a perpetual longing and the possibility of a happy end.
Is that delusion destroyed or fulfilled if someone goes in search of the loved one?
There were quite a few stories that were told where people actually went looking to be reunited with their first love and were disappointed. Or regretted making that happen. There are so many complicated emotions that come with reunion and it’s not always satisfying and sometimes it’s even dangerous.
Yes. What I mean is if one is holding on to an image of a person or an old memory, sometimes those things have more value than trying to validate them again. In every reunion there is something to gain and a risk of something to lose. And I know from what I learned from people’s stories is that these encounters are risky and unpredictable. But there is perpetual hope as well.
So reunions are driven by hope?
Yes. Some of them are driven by a need to come to a conclusion about something.
Why have you chosen not to name a specific location in the play?
The settings are indeterminate, the scenes are named by me. Hurricane Country, Tsunami Country, Inland Country. But there are other places not associated with natural disasters. The urban flower shop, Desert Country. The location is really the planet. It’s not supposed to be particularly geographical or cultural because it’s just really about how people persevere after personal losses and carry the hope of reunion.
What were some of the stories like?
There was an actor who told about reuniting with his father who he’d not see for 17 years, since he was a child. The father came to see him in a show that he was in and left a note and he went to meet with his father but he really didn’t know what the father wanted at that point. He was not disappointed in the sense that he wasn’t expecting or longing for it. It was a reunion that was forced upon him.
What would you say to people who are thinking about having a reunion that may be emotionally loaded?
If they are tracking down a first love, I would say, you want to think hard about what you want to achieve. Do you want to achieve the hope of reunion? Do you want recapture the memories you have or are you ready to have this reunion and be OK with however the outcome will turn out to be.
Did you hear many satisfying stories of reunions?
No, I can’t say that, from the stories that were shared with me, that there were that many. There were some that were funny, especially about class reunions. There was one about a guy who got all dressed up and ready to show off. Instead he got totally drunk. He tried to host an after-reunion party in his hotel room and somehow ended up ripping the toilet off the floor and being kicked out of the hotel.
Can people grow in some way through a reunion?
I think that’s wholly possible. In my play, I do make that happen. So I think it’s a hopeful way to think about reunions.