Play about British internees in Japanese POW camp finds humanity in the middle of WW2

Play about British internees in Japanese POW camp finds humanity in the middle of WW2

Gonzo
written and directed by Gordon Pascoe
November 1-12, 2006
Norman Rothstein
Theatre

World
War II was a terrible time in history.  Our Canadian perspective
is torn between the wars in Europe and Pacific.  But WW2 was also
fought  in Asia, Northern Africa, the Australasia archipelago, the
Alaskan Islands.  It was the first war where non-combat citizens
were devastatingly affected – from the rape of Naking by Japanese
soldiers, the Nazi concentration camps of ethnic European Jews, the
atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima by the USA, and the massive
internment of ethnic Japanese descendants in both Canada and the USA.

British
internees are housed in a Japanese prison of war camp in Shanghai,
China, and cared for a Japanese soldier named Gonzo.  Written and
directed by Gordon Pascoe, who grew up in the Ash prison of war camp in
Shanghai.  This play was based on his memories of actual
events. 

It is a lovely play that celebrates human kindness amongst the horrific
circumstances of WW2.  Pascoe finds a way to intertwine the
evacuation of Jews from Europe to China, the internment of
Japanese-Canadians in British Columbia, the pivotal war battles in
Africa, Europe and the Pacific into the tiny confines of a camp housing
British women and children.

The play opens with an elderly man saluting a Remembrance Day
service.  Next we see him hooked up to an IV tube, after surviving
a heart health crisis.  He states that he must tell a story that
he should have told a long time ago.  The events of this play are
based on the true life accounts of writer/director Gordon Pascoe, as he
grew up in the Ash Camp in Shanghai.

Now the play's real action begins, as young mother Evelyn Pascoe and
young son Gordon arrive at Hut D, at Ash camp.  They soon meet
other camp residents who inspect the belongings that they have brought
with them.  Basic requirements are sparse, and the mirror that
Eveleyn has brought is treated as precious.  Evelyn is in dispair
at the tiny one-room hut that she has been assigned to.  She soon
learns from the others that while conditions are tough, they are
thankful of the Japanese soldier nicknamed “Gonzo” that cares for them.

Throughout the play, the audience learns what the residents must do to
survive through the internment.  They scrounge and trade for
food.  They put on Gilbert & Sullivan light opera to raise
morale.  They intereact with other women, mothers and
children.  They even befriend the Japanese Camp guard named
Gonzo.  He shows them pictures of his wife and daughter, back home
in Nagasaki, where he used to be a school teacher.  This segment
emphasisizes the commonalities and family values that all cultures
share, while only the audience really knows that Nagasaki will
eventually be the victim of an atomic bomb.

The children play games, and even mimic playing camp commandant, making
fun of the Japanese commandant's penchant for Japanese
propaganda.  The camp residents have secretly managed to build a
wireless radio, so they are already knowledgable about what is actually
happening during the war's events.  They hear about the liberation
of Paris, and the battle of Midway.

The play's darkest moments come when some of the women are allowed to
visit their husbands at a Men-Only work camp.  Allusions are made
to the terrible conditions, poor food, and extremely hard physical
labour that the men must endure.  The actors do a nice job of
sharing the stories, and convey the hardships.  But somehow all
the costumes look a bit too clean, and the set is still too nice to be
a horrible prison of war camp. But for the melodrama and the
Pollyannish presentations, this play touches the heart, as it recreates
and imagines the emotions that the characters must go through. 

Gonzo is soon re-nicknamed “Robert Taylor” because of his kind acts,
and good features.  Actor Simon Hayama does a good job
demonstrating the caringness that Gonzo treats his charges.  He
plays with the children, gives them treats and learns to speak English
from them.

Despite being set during a terrible time in WW2, Pascoe has incredibly
weaved together the elements that we value as human beings: Compassion
and Love.  Yes, there is war and death in this play.  It is
unavoidable for WW2 subject matter.   He takes the Big World
issues of internment, and the evacuation of Jews, and contrasts them
with the Little Word issues of surviving in a prison of war camp, on a
day to day basis.  We can understand the fear that mother Evelyn
Pascoe has when young Gordon goes missing at camp one day.  We can
feel the pathos, when camp matron Geraldine Conway-Smythe learns that
her husband has died.  We recognize that war was… and is
terrible…. that terrible things happen.  And because of it, we
are more grateful when humane deeds are revealed against this setting.

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