Cynthia Gates-Fujikawa learned more about the life of her father, character actor Jerry Fujikawa, from a newspaper interview than she ever heard from his own lips.
Piercing the veil of silent stoicism typical of her father’s generation of Japanese Americans became a personal odyssey chronicled in Gates-Fujikawa’s one-woman show, “Old Man River,” at Theatre West.
Against a backdrop of photos, historical documents and clips from her dad’s films, she cycles through her discoveries--her father’s various careers as a migrant farm worker and salesman, his internment in the infamous Manzanar camp during World War II, his gambling problem, and a previous marriage that produced a half-sister she’d never known.
A sympathetic if somewhat laid-back raconteur, and an amusing mimic of eccentric characters like her chain-smoking mother, Gates-Fujikawa furnishes a wealth of episodic particulars. But she’s less adept at connecting the dots to the larger significance of the lives she’s examining--both her father’s and implicitly her own.
A closing quote that “Truth is found by considering all facets of our lives” reflects a shaky central conceit--that details accumulated in sufficient quantity add up to insight. Too much like a rambling tour through someone’s photo album, the piece is in serious need of shortening, tightening and focusing to crystallize and--more important--to dig beneath the externals of her principal themes: the implications of Hollywood stereotypes for Asian Americans, the complex emotional issues surrounding the internment camps, and her search for her half-sister. There’s potential here, but Gates-Fujikawa and director Beth Schachter still have plenty of work ahead of them.
* “Old Man River,” Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends March 1. $18. (213) 851-7977. Running time: 2 hours.