Playwright Charles B. French captures the experience of a World War II period rife with fear of the Japanese in his world-premiere play, “Hair Like the Sun,” based on a true story.
The play is the story of a white American teenage girl named Ruth Mix who joins her English-teaching mother at a Japanese internment camp. Ruth serves as a hospital volunteer where she befriends the Japanese girls. Her red hair earns her the name “taiyo mitaina kaminoke,” which means girl with hair like the sun.
With its themes of distrust and xenophobia, “Hair Like the Sun” resonates in modern times, French said.
“Not only is it dealing with issues that we’re dealing with today, the fear of ‘the other’—it’s so easy to let our fears mistreat our fellow citizens—it’s a story of someone thrust into a seemingly impossible situation and finding that she’s actually strong enough and capable of dealing with it,” he said.
“Hair Like the Sun” director Steven Fenley holds a Master of Fine Arts in theater and has earned a Greer Garson award.
“He gets this show,” French said. “I don’t think I would trust anyone else as much as I would trust him. It’s always great when you see a director who gets it.”
Gary Kreitz, producer and director of sales and community relations with The Texas Repertory Theatre Company, conceived the idea of joining the concept of the play with the playwright. Kreitz's brother Doug told him about a documentary about Ruth and her mother when the idea of putting on the play was born.
“Kreitz told his brother, ‘I have a theater that can put it on, and I know a guy who can write it,’” French said.
After Kreitz presented the idea to French, the playwright said he watched the documentary and read the book in one day.
“I said ‘Yes, I want to do this,’” he said. “‘This is a story worth telling.’”
“This project has been in motion over three years. It’s hard to imagine that this is finally going to happen."
–Charles B. French, playwright
Arts from the Japanese-American internment camps will be on display in the lobby of the theater, Kreitz said. Prisoners in the internment camp used rocks, shells, scraps of wood and plant material to create art as a pastime.
“The Japanese American Museum in San Jose, California, will be loaning us two original artifacts of artwork sculptures that the Japanese created to while away their time in the camps because they had nothing to do,” Kreitz said. “These pieces of artwork are just incredible.”
French said the Texas Repertory Theatre, which hosts a variety of productions, is a good venue because it is a professional theater and has an exceptional cast.
“They’re in their 11th season, so this is a theater that knows how to tell a good story and knows what a good theater is,” French said.
He said he personally knows a lot of the people working on the production “Hair Like the Sun.”
“I know that they are going to make sure they honor the work and honor the story of Ruth and they do right by it,” he said.
French has been working on “Hair Like the Sun” for the theater since Dec. 2012.