By Jim Gilles
On Saturday, there was a performance of Chris Collins’ new play Ayano at the Actor Company Other Space Theatre on Formosa in West Hollywood. Written by Chris Collins and directed by Kiff Scholl, the play explores the psychological stress of trying to reconcile maturity with the dream-ambitions of early life. Ayano takes its name from its central character – Ayano, a first generation Japanese-American actress, is on the brink of success. Sadly, in Hollywood, having talent, passion and luck isn’t always enough.
Ayano is a woman who came to Los Angeles from Japan with a dream that she shared with many young women who come here from around the world: The dream of becoming a successful actress in Hollywood. With her charm and delicate beauty, she appears to embody a fantasy that many Western men project onto Asian women as an object of desire.
We first meet Ayano after she has been in Los Angeles already for five years. She has been married now for almost five years to a white American she first met in L.A.’s Little Tokyo at a restaurant. Charlie is his name and he comes with a fair amount of baggage – he is an ex-Marine who was a Purple Heart recipient in Afghanistan, drinks heavily, and probably has PTSD. At first in the marriage, things seemed rosy: Ayano was able to land some good roles in stage plays and some television work – but typically cast as a Japanese immigrant type. Of course, Ayano’s command of English has improved significantly so she has hopes of getting better parts in television or film. Charlie had a decent job but was recently let go because his company was downsizing and planning to move to another state.
After some initial success, the opportunities for paid acting jobs in Hollywood have diminished and Ayano struggles to go to auditions, hoping for a big chance. She has had to work as a waitress to help with paying the bills. Her brother-in-law despises her. She’s being pursued by a lecherous producer named Peter (Glenn Ratcliffe), to whom she owes money. Filled with guilt, she sees apparitions of her recently deceased father (Hiro Matsunaga).
The seemingly loving relationship of Ayano and Charlie begins to fray after Charlie loses his job and money is tight. Each has hopes for a better future. Charlie imagines eventually having children and living in a big house. But Ayano dreams of a big break-through as an actress and a future in Hollywood.
Ayano feels compromised by the pressure that the producer Peter puts on her and this eventually leads to other issues in the play. Charlie continues to drink heavily – often with his brother Tom (Gabriel Painter). Eventually a military buddy of Charlie’s shows up to visit: This former Marine medic Tom (John-Peter Cruz) is now a doctor and seemed to be the only balanced person in the story. Ayano feels comforted by him but he cannot solve her problems.
The play becomes a bit frazzled in its movement towards an ending. Without giving away the plot of the play, there are some odd issues about Ayano’s status as an immigrant to the United State and I am not sure how accurate those issues are presented. Perhaps the playwright tried to include too many ideas and not all of them are worked out. We have elements of a ghost story with the introduction of Ayano’s dead father wandering on stage periodically and we might tend to imagine that Dr. Tom might be one to help fix things up. But what is more problematic is the underdevelopment of Charlie’s character. The ending of the play left me baffled as to the actions he chooses to make.
Chris Collins is the playwright. A native of San Francisco, he received a Master’s Degree from the University of Iowa. His previous plays include Victorian, Song of St. Tess, Weapons, and Fuchou with Bourbon. His plays explore the psychological stress of trying to reconcile maturity with the dream-ambitions of early life.
Kiff Scholl who directed the play is a proud member of the SDC and his previous hits include the multiple award winner La Bête at Sacred Fools, The Red Dress, Future Sex, Inc., Dinner at Home Between Deaths, Moon Over Buffalo (2014 Broadway World nominee) and world premieres A Mulholland Christmas Carol; Middle Savage; Act a Lady; and Don Giovanni Tonight, Don Carlo Tomorrow, also at Sacred Fools. His shows have garnered seven Backstage Garland awards, five LA Weekly awards, a GLAAD nomination, and an Ovation Award. As a filmmaker, his feature Scream of the Bikini won numerous awards, including a Maverick Movie Award for Best Director (Amazon, and in Japan, where it’s known as Spy Mission). His other films include 11/11/11 (Netflix), and Surprise (Dekkoo).
Ayano is playing at The Actors Company on Formosa Avenue in West Hollywood through August 7. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8:00 PM and Sunday at 3:00 PM.
For tickets, go to: theactorscompanyla.com or call the Box Office at (323) 463-4639.