Desert Rock Garden Written by Roy Sekigahama is a Powerful and Moving Piece About the History of Japanese Incarceration Camps in the United States

A World Premiere Production by New Village Arts in Carlsbad
Currently Playing Until March 13 
Chloris Li as Penny and Lane Nishikawa as Fuzzy. Photo Daren Scott

Part of the 2019 New Village Arts’ Final Draft New Play Festival, Dessert Rock Garden a world premiere,  by Roy Sekigahama, is a very emotional piece, that uses theatre as a tool to remember, not forget, and educate. Directed by San Diego's own Yari Cervas, the story takes place in 1943 at the Topaz War Relocation Center, an American concentration camp in Utah that housed Americans of Japanese descent and immigrants who had come to the United States from Japan. The setting is apparently pretty simple with two actors, Fuzzy (Lane Nishikawa), an older Japanese man, and Penny (Chloris Li), a Japanese orphan who was overlooked and ended up in the woman's barracks. Fuzzy is focused on building a Japanese rock garden in the camp and Penny is an outspoken little girl who constantly dares fate and authority. Fuzzy in the beginning does not care that much but then realizes Penny is really all alone and needs care and attention. He tries to teach her the beauty and meaning of a rock garden and after some stubbornness, Penny helps him finish it. During that time when they get to know each other, Penny gets a dog from people that are leaving the camp, she also notices that Fuzzy does not know how to read, so she teaches him. When everything seems to be going well, a couple in the camp that gets sponsorship to leave and move to Chicago decides to adopt Penny. Sad for the outcome and not wanting to leave, Fuzzy convinces her that it is for the best and Penny leaves the dog with him.
Chloris Li as Penny and Lane Nishikawa as Fuzzy. Photo Daren Scott
This is a fictionalized story inspired by the life and death of James Hatsuaki Wakasa, an Issei man who was shot and killed at the Topaz incarceration camp in Utah while walking his dog inside the wire fence.

I can hardly find the words to describe this play. It is sad yet so tender and so necessary about this appalling and monstrous chapter in history. Lane Nishikawa is just an acting master class on stage. The voice, the inflection, the movement.  I thought he was absolute perfection and sharing the stage with Chloris Li makes for a great story. Playing a child's role as an adult is tough. Li resolves but at times seems a bit cartoony. But we also see a grown-up Penny at the end of the piece and she is solid.

This is the type of play that really reaches the goal by planting the seed in audiences and having them wanting more out of the content. To more plays like these, more stories like these. It touches my heart to see playwrights like Roy get produced, making these stages in history some sort of justice.

Last year's Christmas selection at new Village Arts of 1222 Oceanfront: A Black Family Christmas and Desert Rock Garden have brought true diversity to the stage through these amazing stories.

For ticket prices and times please click here.

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