‘Valley of the Heart’ lures Bay Area fans

‘Valley of the Heart’ lures Bay Area fans

When Luis Valdez was a baby, his parents toiled as farmworkers in the fields near San Jose, the fabled “Valley of Heart’s Delight.” When he was 2, they finally put down roots on a ranch of their own. Only later did he learn that the previous owners were Japanese-Americans who’d had their lives stolen from them when they were sent to an internment camp during World War II.

That’s the spine of his new drama, “Valley of the Heart,” a rare production by Valdez’s El Teatro Campesino production that has generated such intense word-of-mouth it is drawing droves of theatergoers from around the state — but especially the Bay Area — to the company’s San Juan Bautista home.
For the playwright, famed for “Zoot Suit” and “La Bamba,” the star-crossed love story about an Japanese-American girl and a Latino boy, entangled in the politics of war and race, is deeply personal.
“My first memories are that ranch,” says Valdez, now 74.
In the haunting memory play set amid the World War II-era farms of San Jose and Cupertino, the young lovers face a crisis when the Japanese girl and her family have their lives forever disrupted by internment.
When “Valley of the Heart” was first staged last year, it quickly became a multicultural touchstone. Teatro brought it back in August and has now extended its run into October, due to popular demand.
Cindi O’Neal trekked all the way from San Lorenzo because many of the clients at her Berkeley hair salon were raving about the drama.”For me, it was a very powerful play to see how badly the Japanese were treated,” says O’Neal, who is Latina. “I think it’s important to know this part of history in our country so it won’t happen again.”She was so moved that she is planning to see it a second time and telling everyone she knows that they can’t miss it because “you laughed and you cried in some parts.”Lisa Omori, an attorney from Carlsbad, also bought a ticket because she heard the play illuminated the tragic realities of the internment experience. It certainly struck a nerve for her family.

“It’s very relatable,” she says. “For myself, my grandparents were second-generation farmers. Their immigrant parents faced many of the same feelings portrayed.”

The play also made her realize that her grandparents and parents had not revealed the harsh details of their struggles during the war.

“They just accepted their circumstance,” she says. “They don’t share much of their war memories. There are no victors in war.”

The hard-hitting relevance of “Valley of the Heart” and its ability to shine light on local history is also what moved composer Roy Hirabayashi.

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