The Teahouse of the August Moon (play)
|The Teahouse of the August Moon|
|Written by||Vern Sneider (novel)
John Patrick (play)
Col. Wainright Purdy III
The Daughter's Child
Mr. Sumata's Father
|Date premiered||15 October 1953|
|Place premiered||Martin Beck Theatre
New York City, New York
The Teahouse of the August Moon is a 1953 play written by John Patrick adapted from the 1951 novel by Vern Sneider. The play was later adapted for film in 1956, and the 1970 Broadway musical, Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen.
The play opened in New York City at the Martin Beck Theater on October 15, 1953. It was a Broadway hit, running 1027 performances and winning many awards including: the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play of the Year, the Pulitzer Prize in Drama and the Tony Award. The play, well regarded for several decades, came to seem old-fashioned with increased understanding and sensitivity of racial issues. The portrayals of the Okinawa characters in the play were seen as offensive and the generational humor began to lose its impact in the 1970s.
In the aftermath of World War II, the island of Okinawa was occupied by the American military. Captain Fisby, a young army officer, is transferred to a tiny Okinawa island town called Tobiki by his Commanding Officer Colonel Purdy. Fisby is tasked with the job of implementing “Plan B”. The plan calls for teaching the natives all things American and the first step for Capt. Fisby is to establish a democratically elected Mayor, Chief of Agriculture, Chief of Police and President of the Ladies League for Democratic Action. Plan “B” also calls for the building of a schoolhouse (Pentagon shaped), democracy lessons and establishing capitalism through means left up to the good Captain’s judgment. A local Tobiki native, Sakini by name, is assigned to act as Fisby’s interpreter. Sakini, a Puck-like character, attempts to acquaint Fisby with the local customs as well as guide the audiences through the play providing both historical and cultural framework through his asides and monologues.
After receiving many gifts from the villagers, including a geisha named Lotus Blossom, Fisby tries to find local products on which to build his capitalist endeavor. He is discouraged when the villagers can’t find a market for their handmade products, items like getas (wooden sandals), lacquered bowls, cricket cages, and casas (straw hats). He is also frustrated when the newly elected democratic government votes to build a teahouse for geisha Lotus Blossom with the building supplies designated for his Pentagon shaped school. Through the villagers, Captain Fisby starts to see the beauty of preserving their culture and a slower way of life. He agrees to build the teahouse (Chaya) and even lands on a moneymaking product – sweet potato brandy. Soon the Cooperative Brewing Company of Tobiki is churning out liquor by the gallon and selling it to all the neighboring military bases.
The gala opening of the teahouse is the moment when Colonel Purdy decides to make his progress inspection and finds Captain Fisby serenading the villagers in his bathrobe with a rendition of She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain. He is in danger of court martial and reprimanded for misusing government supplies, selling liquor and "not turning the villagers into Americans fast enough". Col. Purdy orders the destruction of all the stills and the teahouse. Sakini and the villagers outsmart the Colonel and only pretend to destroy everything, instead they hide everything “quick as the dickens”. Their foresight proves fortuitous when Purdy learns that Congress is about to use Tobiki as a model for the success of Plan B. The villagers rebuild the teahouse on stage, and even offer a cup to Col. Purdy in a gesture of goodwill. Like all great comedies, in the end, all is forgiven. The village returns to the rich life they once knew (plus a teahouse, export industry and geishas), Fisby is touted a hero, and Purdy, we hope will get a brigadier general’s star for his wife Grace after all.
Teahouse of the August Moon is a comedy whose laughs come from the inability of the American characters to understand Tobiki culture and tradition. However, it is not just a story of culture clash. Through the character of Fisby we see acceptance and the beauty of making peace with oneself somewhere between ambition and limitations. We also learn, like Fisby, that sometimes the better life is had by taking a “step backward in the right direction.”
Awards and nominations
- 1954 Tony Award for Best Play
- 1954 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
John Patrick adapted his play for the 1956 film, The Teahouse of the August Moon, starring Glenn Ford, Eddie Albert and Marlon Brando. The play and screenplay were adapted for the 1970 Broadway musical, Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen.
- The Teahouse of the August Moon at the Internet Broadway Database
- The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956 film) at the Internet Movie Database
- Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen (1970 musical) at the Internet Broadway Database
- John Patrick. The Teahouse of the August Moon. Dramatists Play Service Inc. New York: 1952
- "The Teahouse of the August Moon: Introduction." Drama for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski. Vol. 13. Detroit: Gale, 1998. eNotes.com. January 2006. 4 May 2009. <http://www.enotes.com/teahouse-august/introduction>.