The pivotal figure is George, a teenage student with a secret crush on another boy. As George (a pensive Kramer Kwalick) tries to conceal his secret, his parents (Dylan Arredondo and Toni Rae Salmi) plan to conceal or destroy their belongings to avoid being charged as suspected subversives.
Hamashima’s connections are intriguing, but it’s hard to tell whether the vague sensation that muffles director Kathryn Chase Bryer’s production is due to details that still need to be written in or a show that never hits a convincing stylistic stride. The script tells us what’s happening in the world, but the dreadful facts of looming internment are understated, even with a sinister, vulgar white character invading the home. Certain interactions are touching as the family faces pressures to sacrifice and blend in, but the relationships aren’t developed enough to grow deep.
The magical cartoonish-surreal quality wobbles, too. The buzzards stalking the household ought to inspire a shiver of dread, but the actors in capes and giant bird masks feel terribly earthbound and on-the-nose as predatory symbols of bigotry. An American policeman with a Keystone Kops mustache comes across as a punchless caricature, the earnest “issei” (first-generation immigrant) parents are blandly rendered, and the intended evocation of a culture under siege doesn’t come into sharp focus.
Hamashima is delving into the kinds of cultural rifts that still simmer in this country. He nearly has his hands on something poignant and horrific, but this composition hasn’t found its balance yet.
American Spies and Other Homegrown Fables, by Sam Hamashima. Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer. With KyoSin Kang and Carolyn Kashner. Movement director, Catherine Oh; scenic design, JD Madsen; lights, Kristin A. Thompson; sound design, Reid May; costumes, Grace Kang; props, Amy Kellett. About 70 minutes. Through Aug. 4 at NextStop Theatre Company, 269 Sunset Park Dr., Herndon. $32. thehubtheatre.org.