Top News

‘Empire of the Son’ makes N.L. debut

Tetsuro Shigematsu’s one-man show “Empire of the Son” runs at the LSP Hall in St. John’s until Nov 26.
Tetsuro Shigematsu’s one-man show “Empire of the Son” runs at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s until Nov 26.

One-man show is not your typical family memoir

Tetsuro Shigematsu’s “Empire of the Son” made its Newfoundland debut at the LSPU Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 22.

The one-man showman Shigematsu, and artistic producer Donna Yamamoto were also making their N.L. debut, visiting the province for the first time after touring the show across the country, departing from British Columbia.

Presented by Artistic Fraud, plus a lengthy list of supporters, sponsors, arts councils, foundations and associations from across the country, the show was prefaced by a glowing introduction from playwright Robert Chafe.

The stage was elaborately set — a large backdrop, reaching to the ceiling, incorporated a large screen, projecting images and video clips. A table lined with lamps and assorted miniature props would provide visual aids to Tetsuro’s storytelling, displayed on the screen behind him.

The show was born when Tetsuro’s father, Akira Shigematsu’s health began to decline, three years ago.

“Empire of the Son” tells the story of the Shigematsu family, emigrating from Japan to England, finally settling in Canada.

Sprinkled with witty humour, family memories, and nuggets of wisdom gleaned from a life well-lived, Tetsuro detailed his Japanese-Canadian upbringing.

Akira Shigematsu held more traditional values, while Tetsuro’s views were molded by the western culture he grew up in.

These contrasting approaches to the world would bring turmoil during Tetsuro’s teenage years, but as the years passed, marked by events such as growing a family of his own, and both working as public radio broadcasters at CBC, the father and son end up more alike than previously imagined.

Akira Shigematsu passed away during rehearsals in autumn of 2015, changing the show before it hit stages for the first time.

Tetsuro did not cry when his father passed. The audience learns of his emotional struggle of feeling emotionless when the show begins. Tetsuro had never seen his father cry. His father did not cry because his father did not cry, and so on, back through the generations.

Now, as he awaits his father’s body to be released after being donated to science, as per his request, Tetsuro wonders if he will be able to cry at the long-awaited funeral.

Together, Tetsuro and the audience explore the concept of Japanese stoicism and emotional passiveness.

In a discussion about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Akira likens the effects of radiation to food poisoning, downplaying the event the same way he brushed off stories about his chance meetings with celebrities and royalty.

A life of learning condensed into about an hour and a half, I left the LSPU Hall feeling like I really got to know Tetsuro Shigematsu during that time and. even more interestingly, I felt like I had met Akira Shigematsu and the rest of the Shigematsu family throughout the generations.

I also left with some existential dilemmas, questioning my own emotional passiveness, family involvement, and that little clock that keeps ticking throughout it all.

The singular experience of the Shigematsu family lends a universal lesson through “Empire of the Son” – Life is short, emotions are complicated, and we all go through it, together or alone, in silence or with a megaphone.

Go call your dad.

“Empire of the Son” runs from Nov. 22-26 at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s.

 

 

Recent Stories