San Francisco’s melting pot after the war 

The American Conservatory Theater’s play of the future — the coming world premiere of Philip Kan Gotanda’s "After the War" — is about San Francisco’s past.

The play deals with a complex period in history; the location is Japantown, or, as it was called back then, Japanese Town. Home to immigrants from Japan since 1906, the neighborhood was emptied by President Roosevelt’s 1942 executive order, which sent the district’s residents to "relocation camps." These San Franciscans left vacant homes behind them, soon occupied mostly by blacks from the rural South who were attracted by new defense industry jobs in the area.

Those jobs disappeared when the war ended, and by 1948 — the time of Gotanda’s play — the new residents of Japantown (and the Fillmore) were mostly impoverished, mixing with the returning Japanese-Americans trying to reclaim their former homes. It was a confusing, difficult time for the two ethnic groups, living in the same area, a situation whose legacy is felt to this day.

If you have alarm bells going off at this point ("historical play!" "ethnic conflicts!"), rest easy. The circumstances of the play are just that. In the theater, you will see a play about people. Gotanda — author of "Fish Head Soup," "Eat a Bowl of Tea" and "The Wind Cries Mary" — always has focused on the Asian-American experience, but first and foremost, he is a "nonsectarian" playwright.

The central characters in "After the War" are the owner of a Japantown boarding house (played by Vancouver actor Hiro Kanagawa) and its residents, both Japanese-Americans and blacks (and even a Jewish refugee from Russia, played by Delia MacDougall).

The most remarkable character is a dock worker dominating the scene in a benign way. Gotanda wrote the role for ACT core acting company member Steven Anthony Jones.

ACT Artistic Director Carey Perloff directs. Calling "After the War" a work of consequence, she says, "The years immediately following the end of World War II represent a moment of remarkable change in American history, in part because nearly every American emerged from the war years with radically new expectations of what life in this country could or should be."


After the War

Where: American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco

When: Previews begin Wednesday; opens March 28; closes April 22

Tickets: $13.50 to $81.50

Contact: (415) 749-2228 or

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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