Photo by Raymond Shum
Former CBC radio host, Tetsuro Shigematsu says, “In my heart I knew I would always comeback to theatre and to telling my father’s story in particular.”
And tell his father’s story he does in the upcoming play, Empire of the Son, at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre.
“I had this realisation, in my whole life, I had never had a single conversation beyond, ‘Pass the soy sauce,’” he says.
It’s not that they didn’t have contact, Shigematsu says, “He was always there at home, but when he sat at the dinner table, he was always listening to his shortwave Walkman to radio reports from all over the world.”
“When my father’s health began to falter several years ago, I had this moment where I just sort of checked in with my self; was I ok with him dying and not knowing who he is?”
More than self-interested curiosity propelled Shigematsu, “I have two kids. If they are going to be anything like me, they are going to start wondering about their identity, who they are. They are going to ask me questions about their grandpa and I didn’t want to say I didn’t know.”
And the story that his father told was amazing and enlightening; from the reason for leaving a promising life back in Japan to his world as a BBC radio announcer-producer in London. Shigematsu’s father experience many of the major events of the twentieth century, a real life Zelig.
For example, “He told me he was there when Marilyn Monroe sang happy birthday to JFK (US president Kennedy) and as a young boy, he stood in the ashes of Hiroshima.”
Empire of the Son traces not just a father-son relationship but a history of both the world and the Japanese boy who fell out of love with Japan, in love with Somerset Maugham, and the man he became.
Shigematsu’s one-person play is both intimate and cinematic with dramatic devices to draw the audience in to the world of the father, the son, and the son’s children.
Threaded through the play is the cautionary tale to all adult children not to leave these conversations too late.
“My father ended up dying two weeks before the show opened. We thought he had a lot more time than that,” says Shigematsu.
Empire of the Son begins Nov. 8 and runs through Nov 17. Tickets available through Gateway Theatre.
The last two runs of this play were sell-outs. “It’s nearly sold out at Gateway. If people are interested they should jump on getting tickets,” says Shigematsu.