At the outset, Plan-B Theatre Company’s production of Matthew Ivan Bennett’s original play Block 8 doesn’t look promising. Two actors—Bryan Kido and Anita Booher—begin rattling off facts and figures relating as much to broad generalities about the 1942–45 internment of Japanese-Americans as about individual characters. In a 70-minute play, 10 minutes of expository back story and a pause for FDR’s “date which will live in infamy” speech could have been a killer.
But eventually, the narrative settles down into something more specific, and more engrossing. Ken (Kido) is a 23-year-old college student interned at the Topaz facility in Utah with his family; Ada (Booher) is serving as a teacher and librarian in the facility and has a son serving in the Pacific. What begins as a purely professional relationship evolves into a tentative friendship, one that is hindered both by Ken’s anger at being treated like an enemy in his own country and Ada’s fear for her son’s safety, exposing her latent racism.
Randy Rasmussen’s set—including an offkilter backdrop used at times as a projection screen for archival footage of internees—effectively provides an unsteady, constraining context in which these two people interact. But Block 8 only ultimately succeeds through the connection between Ken and Ada, most memorably during a scene in which Ken tries to guide Ada through meditation. Plays about issues and historical events can get lost in their own sense of significance.
Block 8 ultimately understands that those events are really about the people who lived them. (Scott Renshaw)
Block 8 @ Rose Wagner Studio Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, 801-355-2787, through March 8. PlanBTheatre.org.