Orange County Theatre Reviews

(photo credit: Matthew M. Hayashi and Gennie Kauper)

Written by Patrick Chavis 

I reviewed the World Premiere of Sustained Release at the Larking House somewhere in Anaheim in early December — December 8th, if I’m remembering correctly. It was opening night, and I was aware the play was taking place in a garage and not some theater, not even a small theater. This is where someone eats and sleeps, and you must be guided to the bathroom before the show. I sat down in this garage, the lights went off, and there it was – a new place, a new story, and the best seat in the house.

There was an earnestness to the play, intertangled with the relatable characters and a message about relationships that resonated with me. A playwright willing to open up their home to express work is well worth looking into. I met Matt Hayashi at the Night Owl in DTF (Downtown Fullerton) and, as usual, hopped up on three coffees and did my best to document the situation on a caffeine bender that lasted a little longer than two hours on one of the rainiest days in January.

I was born and raised in Fullerton. I’ve lived throughout Orange County. I actually went to Fullerton College before I got my bachelor’s at Cal State Fullerton. I’ve been here my whole life. I’ve lived in different cities in Orange County but always in Orange County. As most do, I started as an actor. I enjoy it, but that intense inward look into oneself and judging yourself, it’s required to be an actor, and it isn’t for me.

Hayashi explained that even though he’s chosen not to act, he couldn’t see a reality where he wasn’t an actor first.

I started taking theatre courses halfway through my sophomore year (High School). there I fell in love with it. I was very left brain, and it forced me to ask the questions of perspective, why would someone say that? At that point in my life, I thought people should act this way. It opened up my perspective and I tried to figure out why people do things. It made me a more rounded person, not just an artist but a more well-rounded person.

Writing didn’t always come easy for Matthew, as he recalled his middle school and high school teachers mentioning that he was a terrible writer. It wasn’t until high school that a teacher gave him any affirmation regarding his craft.  While Sustained Release is Hayashi’s first full-length play, it isn’t the first play he’s ever written. He wrote a couple of full-length plays before but wasn’t satisfied with the work.

There was a production I saw at LA Mirada Theatre of the Performing arts called next to normal. It was one of the most cathartic experiences I’ve ever had. Even though it’s kind of silly, and its a rock opera, for me there was an honesty to it. It was the honesty and the communal experience of watching this thing and feeling an emotional response three feet away from someone else having an emotional response is what attracted me to theatre. I think there’s a shared energy. Sure, you can go into a movie theatre, sit in audience and you’re sitting next to people that are also having an emotional response/ They laugh; they cry, but in theatre there is that direct relationship with the actor you have at the moment. They have an honest moment, hopefully, where we learn something about ourselves. That’s what I thought was missing in those earlier drafts.

Sidney Aaron Aptaker (Hailey Burke), Spike Pulice (Robert Anderson)

Hayashi felt that honesty was ultimately expressed in Sustained Release, and that’s why he chose Sustained Release as his first play.

The reason I decided to put it in Hershey Pennsylvania, I wanted it to feel displaced — the surrealism of the piece, the language of the poetry, and the feeling of nostalgia. I wanted it to feel like an island where these three characters existed because we don’t see the parents because there are so many things that aren’t grounded. I wanted it to take place in this far away land.

Hayashi mentioned he has never been to Hershey, Pennslyvania, but assured me he did plenty of research on the area for the play.

It was incredibly nerve-wracking seeing it (the play) because there was a lot of myself put into it. It’s not a story everybody will connect to, but I think for me, I guess there’s the dichotomy of me feeling that honesty is what I prioritize in art but being terrified to be honest in my real life. I feel it helps me grow as a person. I think it was received the way I intended it to. I feel lucky to have had the production that we had.

Putting the show on in their house did have its drawbacks.

 It [was] taxing; it is difficult. When we’re working on the show there’s no leaving. It can be emotionally exhausting when we know the show is happening 10 feet below us. That’s constantly present, but I think it was a labor of love where everyone came together because there were a lot moving parts that needed to happen. I don’t think there’s anything more intimate than our home. So, when Lizzy (Girlfriend, owner of the Larking House) pitched it to me why don’t we do it in the garage because we had done a couple shows in the Garage, it made sense.

A type of surrealism is embedded in the narrative of Sustained Release, an artistic direction Hayashi is quite fond of.

The ones that come to mind are Jose Rivera and Paula Vogel.  Jose Riveras, Magical Surrealism, and The Baltimore waltz by Paula Vogel. Those playwrights struck a chord with me. The Quote from Jose Rivera’s “References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot”

“I wanted to find out if we’re tuned the same way. What’s the pitch of [his/her] soul?  Can I hear it if I tried?” 

Sidney Aaron Aptaker (Hailey Burke), Spike Pulice (Robert Anderson)  Ramon Suzara (Alex Myers)

Hayashi believes surrealism is a way to express something emotionally that’s not encumbered by logic per se. As human beings, we have many ways to express ourselves that fall short of logic.

When Hayashi isn’t writing, he’s directing plays or pouring fine cocktails at Ruth Chris to help pay the bills.

I direct as well, and that’s what I studied when I was at Cal State Fullerton. Mark Ramont was my directing professor. I enjoyed his approach. (Mark Ramonts) His background was circle rep so it was new work focused. I think because of that he’s so focused on the text when it comes to directing. That goes hand and hand with writing and structure. I would say his method is very strict. But I prefer that. When I was going to Fullerton College it was a little looser and that was great for me to explore and to see a bunch of variety, but I think I prefer a structured environment because it gave me a baseline. Then I felt the freedom to explore other things after that. So, I like having that framework, and even in my writing, I’m a structuralist when It comes to those things.

Matthews’ next directing project is an ambitious production of King Richard III at Santa Ana College, a creative space made possible because of Amberly Chamberlin, the theatre department chair, who champions giving creatives a space to hone their craft.

You have to register, and the school frames it as emerging artist having a space to do stuff. The department is shrinking in terms of its student body and The chair Amberly Chamberlin is trying to utilize it. So, I’m grateful she’s giving us the space to work and hone our craft.

King Richard III will run from March 30 – April 2, 2023.  Instagram: @matthew.m.hayashi

2 Responses to SURREALISM OF THE HEART : Fullerton Playwright Matthew Hayashi

  1. Matthew M. Hayashi says:

    Thank you again! The interview was a lot of fun. I’m very grateful for your time!

  2. Bob May says:

    Excellent article. Thanks.