Lawrence Kao, Sab Shimono and Ryun Yu in South Coast Repertory’s 2015 world premiere of "tokyo fish story" by Kimber Lee. (Photo by Ben Horak/SCR)
Lawrence Kao, Sab Shimono and Ryun Yu in South Coast Repertory’s 2015 world premiere of “tokyo fish story” by Kimber Lee. (Photo by Ben Horak/SCR)

COSTA MESA — In a world of fusion sushi and evolving techniques, how long can tradition survive as a wave of new ideals challenge the status quo? Playwright Kimber Lee’s “tokyo fish story” takes a bite out of the sushi world and the mastery behind its plates.

Bart DeLorenzo directs this world premiere on the Julianne Argyros Stage at South Coast Repertory through March 29.

Sushi master Koji’s restaurant falls into decline as the new, hip spot down the street packs customers in. His brilliant protégé Takashi could be the key to bringing glory back to the older restaurant, but out of respect, Takashi unwaveringly follows Koji’s instruction — despite the urgings of Nobu, his hip-hop obsessed assistant, and Ama, a punked-out sushi chef trying to make her way in a man’s world.

Ambition and tradition come to a head as they attempt to keep the restaurant open, fill their kitchen staff and strike a balance between art and commerce.

“I’m fascinated by the daily grind behind genius,” said Lee, who also found inspiration in the art behind the food and has used it as a vehicle to reveal the relationships between her characters. “In this play, I was interested in exploring that daily ritual pursuit of perfection, and the way it might press on a relationship between a father and a son. There are such beautiful and painful ways that we hold on to each other and let each other go, even and especially in unspoken moments. And somehow, the food in the play carries those things in a very intimate way.”

Playwright Kimber Lee
Playwright Kimber Lee

Lee has also written the plays “fight” and “brownsville song (b-side for tray),” which premiered at the 2014 Humana Festival, with other productions at Lincoln Center Theatre/LCT3, Long Wharf Theatre and Philadelphia Theatre Company. In 2014, Center Theatre Group presented the world premiere of her play “different words for the same thing,” directed by Neel Keller.

Her work has been presented by Lark Play Development Center, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, The Old Globe and Dramatists Guild Fellows Program. Lee is a Lark Playwrights Workshop Fellow (2014-15), a member of Ma-Yi Writers Lab, and currently under commission at theaters including Lincoln Center Theater/LCT3, SCR, Denver Center Theatre Company and Hartford Stage. She received the 2014 Ruby Prize, the 2013-14 PoNY Fellowship, the 2014-15 Aetna New Voices Fellowship, and the inaugural 2015 PoNY/Bush Theatre Playwright Residency in London.

The cast for “tokyo fish story”:

• Lawrence Kao (Nobu), who made his SCR debut last season in “Fast Company.” While studying theatre at UC Irvine, he began dancing with Kaba Modern, which led to his participation on MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew.” He played Norman Lee in East West Players’ “Krunk Fu Battle Battle.” His TV credits include “The Walking Dead,” “Hawaii 5-0,” “Scorpion,” and “NCIS: Los Angeles.”

• Jully Lee (Ama Miyuki/Woman), who is making her SCR debut. She is the artistic director of Cold Tofu, the nation’s premier Asian American improv troupe. She was seen at PCPA (Pacific Conservatory Theatre) in “36 Views” in the lead role of Setsuko Hearn. Other theater credits include “Joy Luck Club,” “Sweet Karma,” “Chinese Massacre [Annotated],” “Sun Sisters,” “Fabric (Company of Angels),” “Grace Kim and the Spiders from Mars,” and “Trojan Women.” Her film and TV credits include “Gang Related,” “Prank My Mom,” “Return to Zero,” “Girlfriends,” and “Reno 911!”

• Eddie Mui (Tuna Dealer Apprentice/Oishi/Toru/Daisuke/Yuji/Hirayama), who is making his SCR debut. At East West Players, he appeared in David Henry Hwang’s “The Dance and the Railroad” and Garrett Omata’s romantic comedy “S.A.M. I Am.” Mui and “tokyo fish story” co-star Ryun Yu both starred in the world premiere stage adaptation of Judy Soo Hoo’s dark comedy “Texas.” Mui has been acting and producing his own independent feature films, such as the drama “Someone I Used to Know” and the comedy/action/thriller movie “Unidentified.”

• Sab Shimono (Koji) returns to SCR after having appeared in Philip Kan Gotanda’s “Ballad of Yachiyo.” His other collaborations with Gotanda include “After the War,” “The Avocado Kid,” “Manzanar,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” the feature film “Life Tastes Good,” and off-Broadway productions of “Ballad of Yachiyo,” “Yankee Dawg You Die” and “The Wash.” He most recently appeared in “The Orphan of Zhao” at American Conservatory Theater and La Jolla Playhouse. Broadway credits include world premieres of “Mame,” “Pacific Overtures,” “Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen” and “Ride the Wind.” Regional credits include “Happy End” at American Conservatory Theater; the world premiere of “Wrinkles” at East West Players; and Ken Narasaki’s “Ghosts and Baggage,” “No-No Boy” and “Innocent When You Dream.” Film and TV appearances include “Gung Ho,” “Presumed Innocent,” “Waterworld,” “Come See the Paradise,” “The Shadow,” “Paradise Road,” “Suture,” “Mad Men,” “Seinfeld,” “Two and a Half Men,” “E.R.,” “The Simpsons” and “M.A.S.H.”

• Ryun Yu (Takashi) just finished playing Mark in the film adaptation of David Henry Hwang’s “Bondage.” He also played a fictional version of Huang in “Yellow Face,” the first adaptation of a major play for YouTube. Other film credits include the upcoming “The Last Tour,” which he is also directing, “Only the Brave,” “The Brothers Solomon” and “The Mikado Project.” TV appearances include “The Whole Truth,” “Bones,” “Good Luck Charlie” and “The Unit.” Stage credits include the L.A. premiere of Julia Cho’s “The Language Archive”; the world premiere of Lloyd Suh’s “American Hwangap” at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco; “Art” at East West Players; “Sea Change” at the Gay and Lesbian Center; “Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi” at EWP; and the West Coast premiere of Richard Greenberg’s “Take Me Out” at the Geffen Playhouse.

The “tokyo fish story” design and creative team includes Neil Patel, scenic design; Christina Haatainen-Jones, costume design; Elizabeth Harper, lighting design; John Zalewski, sound design; Jason H. Thompson, projections; and Jerry Patch, dramaturg. The show’s production manager is Joshua Marchesi and the stage manager is Jenny Butler.

The production is supported by honorary producers Samuel and Tammy Tang and Bill and Carolyn Klein.

Eddie Mui, Lawrence Kao and Ryun Yu in a scene from "tokyo fish story." (Photo by
Eddie Mui, Lawrence Kao and Ryun Yu in a scene from “tokyo fish story.” (Photo by Ben Horak/SCR)

Tickets start at $22. Discounts are available for full-time students, patrons 25 years of age and under, full-time educators, seniors, and groups of 10 or more. For complete information, visit

Tickets may be purchased online, by phone at (714) 708-5555, or by visiting the box office at 655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.

Recommendation: High school and above. Contains profanity and smoking.

Preview performance on Thursday, March 12, at 7:45 p.m. Note: Friday, March 13, is an invitation-only performance. There are no Monday performances. There is no evening performance on Sunday, March 29.

Evenings: Saturday and Sunday, March 14-15, March 21-22, and March 28, at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, March 17-20 and March 24-27, at 7:45 p.m.

Matinees: Saturday-Sunday, March 14-15, March 21-22, and March 28-29, at 2 p.m.

ASL-interpreted: Saturday, March 28, at 2 p.m.

Special events: On Tuesday, March 17, and Wednesday, March 18. Discuss the play with cast members during free post-show discussions led by South Coast Repertory’s literary team. Julianne Argyros Stage.

Inside the Season: Saturday, March 21, from 10:30 a.m. to12:30 p.m. Led by members of SCR’s literary staff, this lively two-hour session features in-depth interviews with cast members and artists from SCR’s production staff, revealing secrets and offering insights into SCR’s production of “tokyo fish story.” The event includes a guided tour of the set. Julianne Argyros Stage. Tickets are $12 and may be purchased in advance or at the door.

South Coast Repertory is located at 655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa, at the Bristol Street/Avenue of the Arts exit off the San Diego (405) Freeway in the David Emmes/Martin Benson Theatre Center, part of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Parking is available on Park Center Drive, off Anton Boulevard.

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