Jeremy's Ramblings, Babblings, and Other Pretentious Bullshit.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
It’s been a very long time since I’ve written anything blog-wise (I know I still need to talk about the rest of the Young Playwrights Festival shows), and I wanted to wait even longer before putting anything down (hell, right now I wish I were asleep), but something has been bothering me for the past couple days, and I need to get it out:
As some of you may or may not know, I was asked by the Maverick Theater to write “Godzilla - The Musical” which, due to legal reasons, was turned into “Giant Green Lizard - The Musical”. The show opened this past weekend, the first of its seven-week run. It’s a huge spectacle of a show, employing a dozen original songs, two theaters and - in the second act - a miniature scale set of Tokyo which gets destroyed every night as a man in a lizard suit stomps around it. It’s very funny, and you will definitely get your admission’s worth out of it.
However, there are things that have emerged in the show that are offensive to the Japanese culture. I am not one who is a firm believer in being politically correct all the time. I quote “Avenue Q”: Everyone’s a little bit racist. And yet several of the laughs to be had in this show are easy laughs at the expense of a careless, lazy stereotype. If you leave the theater feeling uncomfortable (like some of my friends) or just plain wondering if I’m racist (like my mom), know that you’re not alone. Since the theater already put their own disclaimer on the postcards (“If you come expecting a play with substance, you won’t get your money back”), I offer my own words as to why a seemingly harmless show can seem so hurtful.
Before proceeding, I feel inclined to say that “Giant Green Lizard - The Musical” is, first and foremost, a piece of entertainment, meant to amuse. When I was asked to write it, it was to be understood that this was something to make audiences laugh and cheer, a spectacle as never before seen on a storefront theater stage. It was never meant as a show that someone could read into or pull special meanings from. Being a writer who naturally feels the need to provoke an audience into thinking about whatever happens to be on my mind, I found the prospect of writing something purely for the entertainment value an interesting experiement.
However, despite the insistence from the theater that the show is lighter than Ready-Whip on the moon, there is an undercurrent - albeit rather mild and not at all groundbreaking - that seeps through the piece. It is about the stereotypes we give each other. The “Godzilla” movies are firmly rooted in post-WWII Japan, when nuclear radiation was still in the air and paranoia about mass destruction ran rampant. Just like natural disaster movies in a time of war, “Godzilla” faced a society’s fears in a way that they could tolerate, through rubbery costumes and cheap special effects. And when the films came to America, they presented the Japanese culture - already a tarnished image - as a group of cowards, screaming and running at some cheesy being, while the noble American Raymond Burr came to save the day.
At the beginning of “Giant Green Lizard”, a rude American man by the name of Kevin sings a song called “Tokyo Baby”, which takes after certain naïvely prejudiced rock songs of the 1950’s. During that time, it was not unusual to hear Elvis singing, “A hard-headed woman is a thorn in the side of a man,” or to hear The Beach Boys using stereotypical Indian war cries as back-up for “Ten Little Indians”. Afterward, one of the Japanese characters, Toji-San, notes the offensiveness of the song, which Kevin shrugs off.
What takes place throughout the rest of the act is a small culture war, as Kevin and Toji-San criticize each other’s cultures. While everyone else seems to respect their surroundings (the Japanese characters speak English while in Tokyo’s only American-style karaoke bar, and - in a nice directorial touch - the American characters wear clothes that show a tourist’s fascination with Japan), Kevin and Toji-San repeatedly butt heads on the subject of food, myth and music (later, Toji-San launches into a one-man hoedown, joking that he is performing “a true American song”).
Then, disaster strikes, and for the second act, the two cultures come together. They unite forces to help the giant green lizard take down the monster that is ravaging Tokyo (on a set that is truly amazing). Working together, they all help save the day, and sing a song in which they celebrate their respective cultures (with references to Buddha and Tom Hanks). The last line of the show, which is sung, is “God Bless the U.S.A. and Tokyo”, complete with Japanese and American flags flying down. As intentionally cheesy and faux patriotic as the whole thing is, there is a reason for it all.
However, working on a show of this immense caliber - especially when time and money are limited - means that you are working on small details. As a result, characters did not get completely developed and themes were not fully explored. And while the American characters end up looking - for the most part - noble and courageous, the Japanese characters can seem like goofy, dense caricatures. What was meant to be an understanding of cultures has turned into a one-sided parody of a race of people.
Should you still see “Giant Green Lizard”? Certainly. The cast works hard and sounds great (Nick McGee and Enrique Munoz battling over Tokyo is one of the most enjoyable things I’ve seen in a while), the look of the show is unparalleled in Orange County storefront theater and there’s a lot of very funny stuff in it. However, I ask that you look past the accents and the stereotypical behaviors and listen to what the characters are saying - sometimes singing - to each other (I also recommend not bringing children to the show, despite the postcard’s insistence that it is for “10 & Over”. There is scary imagery, mild language and a lot of sexual innuendo. It’s more appropriate for teenagers and adults).
Anyway, “Giant Green Lizard - The Musical” plays through September 10th, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. It is $18 and plays at the beautiful Maverick Theater, 110 E. Walnut St., Fullerton, CA.