Toss It or Keep It? In Portland, One Duo Tries to Figure It Out.

Two people try to work out how to make things work — and if it’s even worth it — in this intimate play. Yohen runs through April 21 in Downtown Portland.  


This isn’t working. This just isn’t working!

Is it ugly or beautiful? Yohen the term — a change in appearance, a change by fire, a kiln mutation, an accident — typically has people asking that about art. Yohen the play, however, asks the much more painful, personal-stakes version about a relationship.

Sumi feels worn down and taken advantage of, attending to everyone’s needs but her own. James is willing to try something new, but he’s unclear how to make this experiment work.

In the dance of this duo — it seems unfair to give away fully what’s going on here until you ease into it — I have my guess where most sympathies might lie. But playwright Philip Kan Gotanda, who was present the weekend I attended, has written two imperfect people with a lot of personal history between them (not to mention racial history all around them), and who are best approached evenly as such. Credit William Earl Ray and Kathy Hsieh, a fixture of Seattle stages, for their portrayals, and director Dmae Lo Roberts for bringing the ambiguities and nuance of hurt to the fore.

There’s a build to Gotanda’s play — a series of immediate slights, repaired the next time around, only to dart off on a trajectory that’s harder to mend. Under all the accumulated dirt from history, when you finally have to reach a decision, how do you tell if something should be thrown out or cherished? With Yohen we get a close-up, as two people try to dust things off and find out.

The pieces come together well in this co-production between PassinArt Theatre and the Portland Playhouse. Lighting by Blanca Forzán shows off Alex Meyer’s clean but detailed set for an overall beautiful stage. The surrounding building — Hatfield Hall — has all the charm of an airport to get into, but upstairs, socked away in the intimate Brunish Theatre, all that’s behind you as you sink into a living room to find out where these two’s paths might take them.

Yohen runs through 4/21 at the Brunish Theatre in Hatfield Hall, Downtown Portland. Tickets ($48) here. Pay-what-you-choose tickets are offered for the Thursday night performance (4/18).

Run time: 80 minutes, no intermission. 

Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of