Random Acts of Kindness

I like performers whose every measured gesture and struck attitude shows their training and polish. But I save my respect for people like Brenda Wong Aoki, an actor and dancer with great technical skill who doesn’t make her virtuosity the point. Instead she focuses tightly on the stories she tells–about her daily life in San Francisco; her journey to Japan to study No theater, a male-dominated art form; and her painful experiences performing No-inspired shows for people who interpret her references to demons, ghosts, and other supernatural beings as proof that Aoki is satanic and her show anti-Christian. Unpretentiously stepping onstage without fuss or fanfare, Aoki begins to speak, addressing the audience with a guileless directness that breaks down the fourth wall at once and completely. Sure, from time to time her strong technique reveals itself, in the fluid way she moves across the stage or in her summoning up a mischievous spirit with a funny facial expression and two index fingers for horns. But for Aoki the tale is more important than the teller. And her story–about her attempts to find herself in rootless America, the first-generation daughter of a Chinese mother and Japanese father–is one that any American searching for herself or himself (which is most of us, l think) will find fascinating and inspirational. Field Museum of Natural History, James Simpson Theater, Lake Shore and Roosevelt, 312-322-8854. Sunday, April 19, 3:30 PM. $25-$35 (includes postshow reception; proceeds benefit the Japanese American Service Committee). –Jack Helbig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Lenny Limjoko.