This past weekend was super busy and fun and we completely wore ourselves out- in the best way possible. Right in the middle of everything, we had the opportunity to see the opening show of The Journal of Ben Uchida at Oregon Children’s Theatre.
The Journal of Ben Uchida was originally a book, and the story has been adapted for the stage. It tells the story of 12-year-old Ben and his family. Ben, his sister, and his father are Japanese Americans who were born in the United States while his mother was born in Japan. The play begins with introducing us to the family, their interests, their relationships, and their family business. We see their routines, their lives, and their connection to each other and their community.
And then things change. Pearl Harbor is bombed, and Japanese Americans are given an order to pack one suitcase, leave their homes, and report to an internment camp. We see and hear the media messages about Japanese Americans and see the changes in how the family is treated by their community members. We then travel by train with the family to their assigned internment camp and witness their life in the camp.
The Journal of Ben Uchida is definitely deeper and heavier than any show we have previously seen there. It is beautifully designed and acted, and it touches on many topics relevant to today. We are provided with moments to witness the impact of being repeatedly exposed to hate, racism, and hurtful words. Issues related to media messaging, institutionalized racism, discriminatory government policies and actions, suicide, and family stress are all addressed in an hour. It’s a lot to take in.
Oregon Children’s Theatre typically has a scavenger hunt or other activities prior to the show. This show has an impactful art installation that includes informative panels containing historically accurate information as well has thousands of tags with the names and ID numbers of individuals placed in the internment camps. I found it very interesting, and Chicken was interested in the name tags. Nugget was not particularly engaged. The installation is definitely worth seeing, but you do not need to allocate as much time as you would for their typical activities.
Oregon Children’s Theatre recommended this show for ages 10 and up. Chicken is just a few months shy of that age, but is in one of the grade levels they are targeting for school matinees. Nugget is younger, and I knew going in that a lot of it would go over his head. And it did.
I would actually recommend this show for middle school and up. Both Chicken and Nugget easily sat through the hour-long show, and there was nothing I felt uncomfortable with them seeing. However, I felt like Chicken did not grasp all of the subtleties of the show. Middle and high school students would be more likely to have the background knowledge and cultural awareness to get more out of the show.
This show is definitely not just for kids. We saw several adults in the audience, and I think adults would get just as much from seeing the show (if not more), than students.
What it’s not: for young children, a graphic depiction of suicide (I don’t think Chicken or Nugget put together that’s what happened, and it even took me a minute to figure it out)
What it is: beautifully done, timely, relevant, an important conversation starter, great for middle school students and older
Do we recommend it: If you are looking for a conversation starter about race and discrimination, this is a fantastic stepping stone- especially for older children who are able to explore at a deeper level
The show is running until March 22, 2020 and tickets can be purchased here: https://www.octc.org/#index