Morgan O-Yuki, Geisha of the Gilded Age, a play by Natsuko Ohama, presented by Ventfort Hall in conjunction with Shakespeare & Company.
Sensitivity to a Subject Matters
By J. Peter Bergman
Ikuko Ikari as Morgan O-Yuki; photo: Kevin Sprague
When George Dennison Morgan, second son of the millionaires who built and occupied Ventfort Hall in Lenox, Massachusetts, married a Japanese Geisha he basically drew an invisible line, or built an incorruptible wall, between himself and his family. His wife was never properly received by his New York family, nor by his family's friends in Newport, Rhode Island. She was never invited to visit the family in Lenox either, and so she never came to Ventfort Hall. Still, her spirit now haunts the place in this new play about her and her husband.
She explains the haunting simply: a person can be so close to another human that her spirit connects to all the places he knew and loved. It is that simplicity, that sincerity, that informs the one hour and ten minute mono-drama being seen five times a week in the main hallway at Lenox's Museum of the Gilded Age.
For a story once so familiar to Americans, the tale of George Morgan and his wife had faded into obscurity until recently. Unearthed by Joan Olshansky, and now created into a new play featuring a beautiful and tender Japanese actress, Ikuko Ikari, it tells the almost too familiar tale of a young woman forced to work to support her family, and then her lover, in the Geisha houses of Japan at the turn of the 20th century. Admired, then loved, by a wealthy American who wants to marry her, she resists him at first, then acquiesces when the lover she has supported - in part with money obtained from the American - marries another, purer Japanese woman. She agrees to marry her foreigner, making herself a foreigner to her own people, and ultimately comes to love him.
The younger Morgans were ostracized, a fate that should not be repeated this summer. Under the sensitive direction of Sarah Taylor and on a set contrived by Carl Sprague, the story of Yuki Cato is told in a straightforward and honest manner, with lightly humorous aspect and a deeply tragic sensibility. The story is not as important as the feelings within it and behind it. There are nerves exposed here. We are shown the results of the "united states of marriage" and the actions of prejudice, not racial so much as foreign. Two countries unite and both alienate their own as a result. It's a touching tale.
Ikari is lovely and she holds her audience delicately in her hands. Her gentle aspect and her decisive disposition are serving the script and the character well. She brings to life a woman we have never known and reminds us that fiction, the Madame Butterfly story, is not stranger than fact. Not all Geisha's die tragic suicidal deaths when their American husbands desert them; in fact Yuki's American husband fathered children elsewhere (a fact not exposed in this play) and she was compelled by his will to present each and every one of them with a small legacy. She lived into the 1960s, and presumably, met many credible Morgans along the way.
Snubbed by her husband's family, and later by her own, Morgan O-Yuki no longer deserves such a fate. She is finally here in Lenox and she must be welcomed. Try to see her while you can.
◊ 07-13-06 ◊
Morgan O-Yuki, Geisha of the Gilded Age plays at Ventfort Hall located at 104 Walker Street, Lenox, MA. For reservations or information call 413-637-3206 or go to www.gildedage.org.