Celebrating 40 years of Brenda Wong Aoki
Original monodrama written and performed by Brenda Wong Aoki
"…stories, ancient and new…dominated by women battling the odds with a strength bordering on obsession."
–The Washington Post
“....extraordinary capacity for evoking an entire spectrum of experience out of her own body and throat.”
–Allen Ullrich, San Francisco Examiner
“ Aoki is a fascinatingly varied and inventive performer.”
“ Aoki spins out an epic, autobiographically based yarn which slowly shades from lighthearted adolescent romance to a finale of backyard Goetterdaemmerung poignance.”
“The story, with music and movement, tells about a small boy in San Francisco’s Chinatown whose dying grandmother tells him the legend of Kuan-Yin and gives him her lucky Kuan-Yin she used in ploaying Monopoly as a birthday present. It was one of those rare and special explorations of legend mingled with everyday life that one associates with the likes of master storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki…near blank verse poetry. With that walk and her timing, Aoki’s presentation is spell binding.”
“….a stunningly crafted work, an artful juxtaposition of folk tale and current events, of traditional music and hip-hop, of old age and childhood.”
“Aoki is a fascinatingly varied and inventive performer throughout, vocally providing her own music - Japanese chants, hummed Tchaikovsky, snatches of familiar songs - and vocalizing her own sound effects, too. And she uses her glorious mane of dark, wavy, massy hair like no performer ever seen: tying it in an instant into a variety of swift knots, suddenly releasing it to flow and swing this way and that. Truly, Aoki’s hair could have taken its own curtain call.”
“I like performers whose every measured gesture and struck attitude shows their training and polish. But I save my respect for people like Brenda Wong Aoki. An actor and dancer with great technical skill who doesn’t make her virtuosity the point. Instead she focuses tightly on the stories she tells. For Aoki the tale is more important than the teller. And her story - about her attempts to find herself in rootless America, the first-generation daughter of a Chinese mother and Japanese father - is one that any American searching for herself or himself (which is mnost of us, I think) will find fascinating and inspirational.”
–Critics Choice Chicago Weekly Reader
”What is richest about Random Acts is what is richest about multiculturalism. it celebrates difference without being sappy. What is most affecting is this woman warrior’s openheartedness, captured in her beaming, expressive face. There is a great deal of courage, charm and humor in a performance this unshielded.”
–Dallas Morning News
“Wong Aoki held the audience entranced and horrified.”
–South China Morning Post
“...held the audience spellbound.”
–New York NICHIBEI
–St. Louis Dispatch
“...The star was San Francisco’s Brenda Wong Aoki...stunning performances.”
True Stories from Real Life
“This soul-stirring coming-of-age disc by Brenda Wong Aoki shouldn't be missed by fans of spoken word. The first-person love story of Brenda Jean--a girl of uniquely mixed heritage (Asian, Mexican, and Scottish)--is backed by a melting jazz soundtrack courtesy of bassist-composer Mark Izu. The west side of Los Angeles is the setting here, but it's Aoki's autobiographical narrative that steals each scene. Her love for Kali, a boy descended from Hawaiian royalty, takes its own course, and Aoki's jazz inspired pacing makes this 71-minute disc ebb and flow with a power all its own.”
I can't say enough about this CD and how it has inspired me! It is a complete masterpiece! Not since I was a little kid being tucked into bed have I been so enchanted by a captivating story. Brenda Wong Aoki's voice is as sweet and soothing as it is powerful. Now take this already amazing spoken word masterpiece and accompany it with an equally amazing musical score, composed by Bassist, Mark Izu. To me, it centers in a Jazzy place, but constantly ventures out into an assortment of styles breaking all barriers of genre and classification. I've got to give credit to each of the musicians for helping make this piece come to life and affect me so profoundly. The Queen's Garden has given me new artistic inspiration and Brenda Wong Aoki's name is now and forever on my list of influences.
***** 5 Stars!
"...an incredible insight into a world of lost children.."
–Los Angeles Times
” a powerful story "
–San Francisco Examiner
“A stunningly crafted work, “Kuan-yin: Our Lady of Compassion” is an artful juxtaposition of folk tale and current events, of traditional music and hip-hop, of old age and childhood…Aoki’s flame burns more brightly than ever.”
Aoki moves with presence, authority and with an evenness that almost floats. Wong’s description of a San Francisco Chinatown tenement is everything one senses seeing strips of Chinese cabbage drying on the storm fence of a Chinatown tennis court, or the patches of green vegetation billowing out of one window of a brick building while the next window displays the day’s variegated garments washed and hung to dry. The sharp contrast between such nitty-gritty and cruel fantasy of one too many daughters rousing the ire of a crusty monarch is the stuff of marvels that Aoki manages to render into near blank verse poetry. With that walk and her timing, Aoki’s presentation is spell binding.
“Bravo, Brenda, Bravo”
–Maestro Kent Nagano
“A stunningly crafted work, “Kuan-yin: Our Lady of Compassion” is an artful juxtaposition of folk tale and current events, of traditional music and hip-hop, of old age and childhood.
Viewed through a child’s eyes in a confusing urban jungle of garbage trucks and TV news, of chemotherapy and multicultural friendships, of terrorists and Monopoly games, the empowering message of “Kuan-Yin” is universal, timeless and wrenchingly relevant as our nation marches toward a senseless war.
Izu’s music complements the journey, moving us from the child’s hip-hop (“It makes me feel cool”) to the mysterious and timeless power of music that makes you feel everything.
Underpinning the taiko drums of Janet Koike, Anthony Brown’s traditional drumkit, and June Kuramoto’s koto, Izu’s bass-line throbs in your ears at 2 o’clock in the morning, like the buzz of high tension wires, and the beat of your heart.
Piercing through the urgent mix of urban madness and traditional idiom rises the human-like wail of the hichiriki, a Japanese flute of astounding nuance played by Togi Suenobu.
“Mixing myth with metaphor, ancient wisdom with street lore and mystery with reality, the performer of Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Scottish descent captivated the crowd…a boy takes a San Francisco bus on his birthday to visit his grandmother in Chinatown. During a Monopoly game, he learns about the “lady of compassion,” whose power is transformative.. In a spiritually uplifting conclusion, he meets the lady when his grandmom passes away.”
–Allentown Morning Call
“Mermaid Meat” provocatively illustrates the legend that consumption of mermaid flesh is the secret to immortality. Wrapped within this fantastic love story of a fisherman and a mermaid who wed are themes of jealousy, loneliness, loss and regret. Aoki’s ability to convey the powerful depth of emotions in such a tragic and mysterious tale proves her to be a consummate performer of rare talent and conviction.”
–Allentown Morning Call
Kuan-yin: she who sees the cries of the universe-----A brilliant mise en scène of multimedia elements.
–Tai Kung Po, 14 December 2002
The five musicians are all excellent performers; I was particularly impressed by Togi Sensei and June Kuramoto. Their music has a wide range of variation, from the high to the low, driving me towards a mysterious voyage. The story-teller, Brenda Wong Aoki, was capable of delivering a wide range of detailed emotional expressions. She possessed a strong magic of stage appeal.
–Theatre sans frontières, 20 November2 003
“Mixing myth with metaphor, ancient wisdom with street lore and mystery with reality, the performer of Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Scottish descent captivated the crowd…a boy takes a San Francisco bus on his birthday to visit his grandmother in Chinatown. During a Monopoly game, he learns about the “lady of compassion,” whose power is transformative.. In a spiritually uplifting conclusion, he meets the lady when his grandmom passes away. Aoki’s ability to convey the powerful depth of emotions in such a tragic and mysterious tale proves her to be a consummate performer of rare talent and conviction.”
–Allentown Morning Call
The story-teller, Brenda Wong Aoki, was capable of delivering a wide range of detailed emotional expressions. She possessed a strong magic of stage appeal.
–Theatre sans frontières, Hong Kong 20 November 2003