Playwright Sam Hamashima and Director Kathryn Chase Bryer Discuss Hub Theatre’s ‘American Spies’

'American Spies and Other Homegrown Fables' premieres July 12, presented by The Hub Theatre performing at NextStop Theatre

Once again Fairfax’s Hub Theatre will be introducing a new playwright, and a new play that highlights America’s common humanity, to a wider DMV audience. This time the playwright is Sam Hamashima and his American Spies and Other Homegrown Fables.

Playwright Sam Hamashima. Photo courtesy of Sam Hamashima.
Playwright Sam Hamashima. Photo courtesy of Sam Hamashima. Photo by Sean Velasco Dodge

Hub’s Artistic Director Matt Bassett described American Spies and Other Homegrown Fables as the story of a Japanese-American family. “The piece follows them, and their centuries-old guardians, as they learn of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. With that, they have to choose between family traditions and survival.”

“This play uses surrealism to explore deeply personal themes of family, tradition, and individual identity, grounded in an important topic of immigration and its role in the American identity,” noted Bassett. “It illuminates an important chapter to examine in American history; finally, it does all these things with heart, humor, and hope for a better way forward, despite the darkness that pushes against our collective humanity.”

American Spies and Other Homegrown Fables is directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer. Bryer’s most recent directing credit is The Oldest Boy at Spooky Action Theater. For American Spies, she has assembled a cast including Dylan Arredondo, KyoSin Kang, Carolyn Kashner, Kramer Kwalick, Philip Reid, Toni Rae Salmi, and Rae Venna.

Playwright Sam Hamashima‘s American Spies had a development workshop by The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts last year. Hamashima is a member and founder of Asian College Theatre Ensemble (ACTE). His work is noted by the National New Play Network New Play Exchange.

Interviews with playwright Sam Hamashima and director Kathryn Chase Bryer follow.

David Siegel: Please tell us more about American Spies and Other Homegrown Fables, its inspiration and its characters.

Sam Hamashima: I think some of the situations I put my characters through in American Spies were challenging to write. These characters are special to me, they represent some of my family members and some of my own ideals and feelings, so it was sometimes difficult to write parts of their dialogue or moments where I know it would cause the character hurt or grief. I think these situations forced me to meditate on what my own relatives went through. The possibilities of how they were treated on this one day. That was challenging for sure.

So there is a moment in our play where one of the characters must come clean about a secret of theirs. A secret they’ve been keeping for a very long time. He’s confiding to his two best friends. Basically three siblings sharing this moment of love. It’s one of my favorite moments of the show, where secrets just didn’t have to matter so much. [Note: to avoid spoilers, further details about this scene have been redacted]

What would you like audiences to come away with after seeing American Spies and Other Homegrown Fables?

I hope that my show encourages discussion around Japanese American imprisonment. I meet many people that have never heard of this WWII event and that is hard for me to believe. I’m hoping this will raise awareness about this issue.

I think Japanese American imprisonment is one of those moments in history that we’ve been trying to keep limited to a paragraph in a history textbook. In order to learn about the subject, you really do have to seek out the information. Like, we don’t learn about it the same way we learn about other moments in American history. However, I think what happened to the Japanese Americans is incredibly important when considering our 2019 cultural context. I won’t go into too much detail, but I think this is an important show for our current American narrative.

David Siegel: Why did you want to direct American Spies and Other Homegrown Fables?

Kathryn Chase Bryer: I love new plays and I love working on new plays. This play is so timely in terms of what is happening in the world, the issue of immigration, fear of “the other.” We must always be reminded: never again. And, “if they come for you in the middle of the night, to take you away they’re going to have to take me away too”….we all have to stand up for what is right and kind, now, more than ever. The fact that Sam is drawing on his own family experience is especially powerful and gives the play a sense of truth and authenticity that is unique. I am humbled and proud to be a part of something that speaks so profoundly to what is wrong in the world right now.

How would you describe the production of American Spies and Other Homegrown Fables?

At its heart, this is a play about the love and timelessness of the family bond. No matter what, the family holds us together, keeps us going. Humans live in hope and this family, despite all the madness around them, holds onto each other to navigate the path together. There is a great deal of magic in the play, and I am working with choreographer Cathy Oh to help tell the story through movement as well as text. I believe the story will be that much more powerful when told this way.

American Spies and Other Homegrown Fables will be presented by The Hub Theatre from July 12 to August 4, 2019, at NextStop Theatre – 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, VA. Purchase tickets online.