Set in 1986, Philip Kan Gotanda's Yohen depicts the unraveling of a 37-year marriage. Although it tumbles off-track in its final third, the play to that point is an astute portrayal of the dynamics of a failed intimacy. Directed by Ben Guillory, in a co-production by East West Players and the Robey Theatre Company, the production gravitates around Glover's affecting performance as a bewildered husband trying desperately to please the woman he loves.
African-American James (Danny Glover, reprising his role from a production in 1999) and Japanese-born Sumi (June Angela) met years earlier when he was a young soldier stationed abroad; she, atypically, was a young divorcee once again living with her family. Now in their 60s, the pair have other differences besides race and height (he towers over her) — namely culture and class, and the propensities commonly attached to them. She comes from a wealthy family and grew up accustomed to nice things and decorous manners. He comes from working-class Gardena and was a boxer with championship aspirations.
Sumi had been attracted to this big strong American soldier, and besides, she had wanted to get away from home, where the stigma of her divorce still enveloped her. In America she had problems adjusting, but the marriage had survived, relatively happily. But in the last few years, she's grown restless and unhappy. She wants to spend her time differently — study pottery, for example — and she wants James to do other things also. But he is set in his ways, so in a desperate effort to get him to change, she asks him to leave their home.
All this takes place prior to the play's opening but emerges in the fluid give-and-take of the dialogue. Gotanda's shaping of these characters and the male-female dichotomy that serves as the play's axis are sensitively rendered. The night I attended Glover was spot on as the frustrated and vulnerable James, while Angela, in a performance with somewhat less texture, nonetheless came through as credible and sympathetic in depicting her character's torn priorities.
Unfortunately, what starts out as an organic narrative after a while begins to feel contrived. James' choices later on seem out of line with his character, while Gotanda's introduction into the narrative of hitherto unrevealed secrets with racist implications seems forced; it's hard to believe that these two people could be so long together and not have shared these sentiments with each other.
Christopher Scott Murillo's set aptly evokes the couple's tasteful middle-class home, while Michael Ricks' lighting and Corinne Carillo's sound add to the subdued poignancy.
YOHEN, David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., downtown; through Nov. 19. (213) 625-7000, eastwestplayers.org.