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'Gate' of Steel

[whitespace] The Gate of Heaven
Battle Cry: War is hell in 'The Gate of Heaven.'

Lane Nishikawa traces history in 'The Gate of Heaven'

By Todd S. Inoue

Lane Nishikawa isn't schizophrenic, but he's getting there. The San Francisco-based performance artist is currently touring three separate shows. I'm on a Mission From Buddha is his signature piece, a humorous examination of Asian America identity politics. Mifune and Me features his personal recollections on the late samurai hero. The Gate of Heaven follows the lives of a liberator and survivor during WWII.

Contemporary Asian Theatre Scene (CATS) brings The Gate of Heaven to the Montgomery Theater in San Jose on Feb. 6-7. Nishikawa plays Sam Yamamoto, a member of the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat unit. James Carpenter plays Leon Ehrlich, a prisoner of Dachau whom Yamamoto liberates. The play follows the two men as they search for each other and for the elusive American dream.

"The show is doing what I had hoped, and that is to bring audiences together," Nishikawa says. "You see 50 years in the lives of these two men. After the show is where we get the payoff because audiences are appreciative of the effort. It's a very personal story because of [co-author] Victor Talmadge and me. That's why the reaction is so deep."

The two characters are based on Talmadge and Nishikawa's families. Sam Yamamoto is rooted on Nishikawa's uncles who served in WWII. Talmadge's mother and aunt were given Lithuanian visas by Cheone Sugihara, the Japanese man who helped thousands of Jews escape the Nazis by granting them access to Lithuania.

"It truly looks at racism in a very different way," Nishikawa explains. "When you see someone in need, you reach out to them. It talks about the human spirit. It has some serious themes, but it's very, very funny."

With Nishikawa's track record of blending heavy social content with light humor, expect another fulfilling, educational performance.

The Gate of Heaven plays Feb. 6-7 at 8pm at the Montgomery Theater, Market and San Carlos streets, San Jose. Tickets are $25 opening night; $17 reserved seating. (408/283-7142 or www.electrotix.com)

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Web extra to the February 5-11, 1998 issue of Metro.

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