Playwright makes P.G. stop

The writer of an all-B.C. modern Christmas story, one that is quickly gaining popularity with Canadian theatre audiences, was in Prince George just in time for the festive season.

Hiro Kanagawa was a guest of Theatre North West, the latest professional company to produce his play The Patron Saint of Stanley Park. While here he watched their production, visited with fans, and did readings from a number of his scripts and stories. Prior to the Patron Saint of Stanley Park, Kanagawa wrote Slants and The Tiger Of Malaya, and most recently he has penned one called Indian Arm named for the picturesque channel of water on Vancouver’s north shore.

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“I’ve made a conscious choice to claim B.C. as my home, my turf,” Kanagawa said. “Like many British Columbians I am not originally from here, I’m not originally from Canada, so it was something I had to do consciously: choose this place and over time make it my home.”

Kanagawa was born in Japan, raised primarily in Ontario but also back in his birth country and in the United States at different periods. He has been a Vancouver resident for the past 25 years. He became a father of two children, put down roots, and although he has been an active actor (he is perhaps best known as Principal Kwan on the Superman television vehicle Smallville, but he also provided voice acting for the anime show Mobile Suit Gundam and the superhero cartoon Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes in which he was Mr. Fantastic) as well as a highly trained visual artist, he found himself in demand as a writer.

He got major traction with the pen as a story editor on the hit TV series Da Vinci’s Inquest and carried on to the spinoff show Da Vinci’s City Hall, then the human trafficking drama Intelligence. He is currently a story editor for the gritty cable series Blackstone, which features Prince George actor Steven Cree Molison.

He has spattered a lot of ink for the television productions, but his muse keeps shining Kanagawa’s spotlight towards the live theatre stage. In the Patron Saint of Stanley Park, his most acclaimed work so far, he boils down a family tragedy into a slightly supernatural, slightly historical, heavily emotional tale of a mom and two teenaged kids trying to cope at Christmas with the loss of the family father while a winter typhoon builds up over the Salish Sea.

“The problem with Christmas is all the pressure that comes with trying so hard to put on a happy face and make it merry when there are family disputes going on, stressed emotions, financial issues,” he said. “This is a reworking of the fables of St. Nicholas, and back when those stories were told, they weren’t all happy and cheery.”

The play has been professionally performed in Halifax to the east, Prince George to the north, and twice in the west by Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre. Kanagawa has been present for these various productions and it is in the seeing of their respective interpretations that the writer gets to feel the resonance of audience digestion and the cast’s interpretations of his words written largely, as is the practice of almost any scribe, in isolation.

“The Theatre North West version allowed the darkness in the play to come out, but the Halifax production was even darker. It had a Maritime moodiness to it. The Vancouver production was more lighthearted,” he said. “I think this Prince George production was the most heartfelt. It really emphasized the reality of the characters, and their situations, and I really appreciated that. There was more of a comedic edge to the Vancouver version. One is not better than the other.”

Both Vancouver versions and the Theatre North West edition had actor Brian Linds in the role of Skookum Pete.

“He brings different colours to each of these portrayals,” Kanagawa said. “In Halifax, Skookum Pete was more of a mythical force in a dark fable. In Vancouver he was more of a comedic master of ceremonies. And TNW allowed him to be a human being and gave the space to draw that out.”

Kanagawa earned a nomination for Best Original Script at the 2010 Jessie Richardson Awards (for B.C. professional theatre) for Patron Saint. He recently finished a script called Tom Pinkerton: The Ballad Of Butterfly’s Son which is a musical he co-wrote with David Macintyre as a sequel to the Puccini opera Madame Butterfly. Indian Arm is also a takeoff - more of a revisioning - of the Little Eyolf story by Henrik Ibsen. It was shortlisted for the Playwright’s Guild of Canada award for Best New Musical.

Also on his lengthening list of completed script projects is the play The Actual Bone based on his Ontario childhood.

“It’s my magnum opus, to date,” he said.

In amongst the original words rattling off his fingers, he is also learning the scripts of another. Kanagawa is still acting and plays a recurring role in a television series not yet seen by a widespread audience but getting plenty of buzz. He is in iZombie, the sci-fi project from writer/director Rob Thomas and the team behind the successful Veronica Mars series.

With Northern FanCon now in operation, the festival and trade show for popular culture, he saw a possibility of returning to Prince George in his actor’s capacity but he also enjoyed the reading and interaction with the afternoon audience who came to see him present his own original work at TNW. With both talent streams flowing this way, he expects a second visit to this city sometime soon.

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