(Photo: Scott Treadway/Courtesy of Treadshots)
By Steve WongTimes-News correspondent
They may not be professionals, but the children and young adults in Flat Rock Playhouse’s Studio 52 youth theater program have achieved that rare acting ability to elicit simultaneous and contrasting emotions through onstage storytelling.
Their current production of “A Thousand Cranes” in the Playhouse’s downtown Hendersonville theater is both terribly sad and inspiringly hopeful.
There are few sadder events in life than the death of a child. In this true and simple story, the child is 2-year-old Sadako, a Japanese girl who survived the initial blast of the atomic bomb that the United States of America dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, killing some 140,000 people.
Although they were at ground zero, she and her family thought they had been spared any radiation sickness, only to be told 10 years later that Sadako was quickly dying of leukemia. And — spoiler alert — she does.
Star of the play this past Saturday night was Asian child actress Jia Hind. Her parents were played by teenagers Andrew Johnson and Aniela Lane. Hind was a natural in this role, ever optimistic with more concern for others than herself, her strong voice and character engulfment endeared her to the audience that was disappointingly sparse. Both Johnson and Lane took their parental roles seriously, displaying convincing sorrow that was masked to lessen the reality of impending death for their daughter.
These were but three of many youthful actors who were called upon by Director Dave Hart to carry the weight of the play through the character development and interaction. The set was starkly bare with a slightly raised stage and a simple Japanese arch and two large panels in the far background.
Throughout the play only the simplest props — a few boxes and makeshift hospital bed — were brought forth to aid the actors. The set’s color scheme was mostly gray to symbolize the gray ash that fell upon the city after the bomb and to accentuate the color red that was used to symbolize life and hope. Overall, it was very Zen.
Instead of elaborate sets, lighting and special effects, the actors had to rely on each other and creative delivery to advance the story. With the exception of the spector-like Kabuki dancer and Sadako’s cherry-blossom kimono, most of the costumes were simple, plain and drab. It was obvious this play was used as a teaching tool to help the budding thespians in their acting, as well as their understanding of Japanese cultural and modern history.
A great deal of factual information was needed to give the audience enough understanding of World War II to appreciate the historical significance. Many times this information was delivered by the actors by simply standing at apt attention and shouting out dates and statistics. Hart is commended for challenging both his actors and his audience to appreciate a play that required both imagination and acceptance of the Far East mindset.
Although the story’s foundation is profoundly sad, its true message is one of hope. As Sadako lay hopelessly dying in a hospital bed, she was reminded of the ancient Japanese legend that if a dying person were to fold 1,000 paper — origami — cranes, the gods would cure the person of her disease. As the story goes, cranes are symbols of long life in Japan, as it was once thought that cranes themselves lived to be 1,000 years old.
Despite Sadako’s enduring spirit and origami efforts, she dies, but her spirit lived on — both figuratively and in reality. The final scene of Sadako’s spiritual ascent is a tribute to good acting, good directing and traditional Japanese thinking.
In reality, Sadako lives on. Through the efforts of her classmates, a worldwide and enduring tribute to her short but inspiring life manifested as a statue of her in Hiroshima Peace Park. And every year since, children from around the world make and send paper cranes to the park as their statement to the world that no child should ever have to die because of war. At the base of the statue, it reads: “This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace on Earth.”
Hart and his cast of young actors took many but thoughtful liberties with this modern classic play to present a message that is as loud as an atomic blast, yet has gentle as the wings of paper crane.
“A Thousand Cranes” will show again this weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 18-20. Don’t miss this opportunity to witness the power of youth as it struggles to survive in a world at war.