By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
East West Players’ latest offering, Prince Gomolvilas’ “The Brothers Paranormal,” is a story of supernatural phenomena as well as family dynamics.
Directed by Jeff Liu, the play focuses on two Thai American brothers — Max (David Huynh), who was born in the U.S., and Visarut (Roy Vongtama), who immigrated from Thailand — and their mother, Tasanee (Emily Kuroda). The brothers have launched a ghost-hunting business and are investigating otherworldly goings-on at the home of Delia (Tamika Simpkins) and Felix (Jasper Howard), an African American couple displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The spirit in question, Jai, is played by Ratana.
During opening night, Snehal Desai, EWP producing artistic director, announced that “The Brothers Paranormal” marks Kuroda’s 46th show with the Asian American theater company.
And that’s only a fraction of her resume. “Overall, I have over 693 theatre, television and film projects since 1970,” said Kuroda, who is best known for playing the mother of Lane Kim (Keiko Agena) in the TV series “Gilmore Girls.”
Asked about her favorite plays at EWP, Kuroda says, “I liked ‘The Maids,’ directed by my husband Alberto Isaac and performed with my dear friend Jeanne Sakata. Other favorites have been my shows with Chay Yew (‘Red,’ ‘Golden Child’ and ‘Sisters Matsumoto’). [Also] the dozens of productions and workshops with Mako. He taught me so much, and toughened me up for this business.”
Mako, an Oscar and Tony nominee who co-founded EWP in 1965, mentored many actors, playwrights and directors as the company’s artistic director. He died in 2006 at the age of 72.
Kuroda’s association with “The Brothers Paranormal” goes back a few years. “I traveled with Prince and Jeff to Geva [Theatre Center] in New York to do a workshop, and later we all went to New York to perform the Pan Asian [Repertory] production,” she recalled. “The team was generous enough to ask the two Los Angeles actors, Roy Vongtama and me, to rejoin the show.
“I also did the world premiere of Prince’s ‘The Theory of Everything,’ which was directed by Tim Dang [former EWP artistic director] and was performed in Singapore and by East West Players.”
She says of her character, “Tassanee is full of love and hardship. I love the way she is seemingly lighthearted and full of love and support, while hiding a deep well of sadness, frustration and fear. Her love for both sons is so powerful — she would move mountains for them if she could.”
Kuroda describes how she prepared for the role. “I worked for hours with Gift Siwaraya Rochanahusdin in New York and our assistant director, Chacha Tahng, here in Los Angeles. I applaud them, especially Gift, for her tremendous patience. I also spent many hours in Thai restaurants hanging out with the waitresses. Prince and Roy were invaluable in filling us all in on Thai traditions, gestures and customs.
“This is one of my few Thai roles, so it was fascinating to delve into the customs. This one was fun, if that’s the word, because not only did I have to learn the accent and customs, but the character is always walking a tightrope and cannot let the world know she is. So much fun for an actor! I thank Prince for this lovely, passionate and complex role.”
Regarding the feedback she has gotten from audiences, Kuroda says, “The greatest compliment is when someone from Thailand comes up to me and assumes I am of Thai heritage. It has happened to me a number of times and those compliments make me so happy!”
Speaking of ghosts, there have been many stories about Union Center for the Arts — home to EWP and formerly Little Tokyo’s Union Church — being haunted, and Kuroda is a believer. “I was helping Meg Imamato audition people for the show, and in between auditions I asked Meg who those people were watching auditions from the balcony. She said, ‘Em, there’s nobody there. The balcony is locked up.’
“During another show, and I think it was a Prince show too, people heard a faint voice calling their name. Once a friend was on the fourth floor and her mug flew through the air, across the room. There’s a lot of stories, but no one was ever harmed, so I choose to believe they are friendly spirits.”
Kuroda played Mrs. Kim in 43 episodes of “Gilmore Girls” from 2000 to 2007 and reprised the role in the 2016 miniseries “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.” “Sadly, ‘A Year in the Life’ might have been my swan song, but I am grateful for each and every minute of joy, warmth and fear that show gave me.”
Upcoming projects include a play at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, where she previously appeared in “The Language Archive” and “Calligraphy.”
Two of Kuroda’s latest credits are in the world of Disney animation. In the just-released movie “Strange World,” she plays Ro, a friend and customer of the Clades, a family of explorers. “I have a sweet scene with the dad (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White).” The cast also includes Gabrielle Union, Dennis Quaid, Lucy Liu and Karan Soni.
In the Disney Plus series “Baymax,” a superhero science fiction comedy based on the movie “Big Hero 6,” Kuroda plays Kiko. “I am in mourning for my husband and I have bad arthritis. Baymax convinces me to start swimming (while resolving some issues with my late husband), which makes me more mobile. In the last episode, all of Baymax’s friends get together to save his life, including a cat that I bond with by the end of the episode. I know it’s a cartoon, but it is so well-written and full of adventure, health tips, and love.”
Her new series, “The Power,” will be available on Amazon in March. Another tale of the supernatural, the show is about a group of teenage girls who mysteriously develop a special power that allows them to electrocute people at will. The cast includes John Leguizamo, Auli’i Cravalho, Alice Eve and Toni Collette.
“I shot that in 2021 and 2022 in the U.K. and Vancouver, and I think it’s just a terrific show,” Kuroda said.
Remaining performances of “The Brothers Paranormal” are on Friday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 3, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 4, at 5 p.m.; Monday, Dec. 5, at 8 p.m.; Friday, Dec. 9, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 10, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 11, at 5 p.m. The David Henry Hwang Theater is located at 120 Judge John Aiso St. in Little Tokyo. Tickets: (213) 625-7000, http://eastwestplayers.org/paranormal