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A Thousand Cranes – Theatre Review: Childsplay, Tempe Center for the Arts

Cranes poster

Currently playing at the Tempe Center for the Arts is Childsplay’s production of A Thousand Cranes, the true story of a young Japanese girl, Sadako Sasaki, who lived by Misasa Bridge in Hiroshima, Japan.   The play tells of the child’s battle with leukemia years after the dropping of the atomic bomb and the spreading of her dream for world peace.

The production is at present on tour with field trips and school tours and has been since October of last year.   For just two weekends, local audiences get the chance to view this charming production at its home base before the tour continues.   At this point, there is only one weekend left, but see it before the play moves on.   Not only does it give you the pleasure of witnessing another accomplished production at the Tempe theatre that, like other Childsplay productions before it, touches the heart and communicates in ways only live theatre can, it also presents the opportunity of discussing action and themes with your children in the car ride home that might ordinarily have never come up.

Cranes 1

You can find several stories of Sadako.   American author Eleanor Coerr wrote about her in the 1977 children’s book, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.   The Childsplay production is by playwright Kathryn Shultz Miller and it requires just three actors to portray all the roles.   The always delightful Michelle Chin, seen recently in the outstanding production of Stray Cat’s The Whale and the colorfully fun Hairspray at Arizona Broadway Theatre, enters the stage and introduces herself.   “My name is Sadako,” she begins, “And this is my story.”

Sadako was just three years old when the United States dropped the atomic bomb in 1945.   Her home was a little more than a mile from where it fell.   Years later, while training for a foot race with her friend Kenji (Nathan DeLaTorre who, like Michelle, is making his Childsplay debut) Sadako feels a pain which causes her to stumble.   Doctors diagnose leukemia, a direct result of the fall of the atomic bomb.   Sadako is still too young to understand why she’s become affected by something that happened several years ago, but as her mother (Elizabeth Polen) tells her, “Radiation doesn’t always show up straight away.”

When Kenji visits the ailing Sadako by her bedside he offers her a folded paper crane as a gift and explains why.   Japanese legend has it that if a sick person makes a thousand paper cranes then the gods will grant the wish of health again.   Inspired by Kenji’s story, Sadako attempts to reach that number.

Cranes 3

Told in just under forty-five minutes with no intermission, director Dwayne Hartford’s production presents its story with grace, poise and theatrical precision.   Holly Windingstand’s wonderful looking scenic design is based on Noh, a form of historical Japanese theatre which originates back as early as the fourteenth century.   Here we have a raised floor backed by the traditional painted design of a pine tree all under a raised roof.   Stage right stands a sound station where actors produce sound effects and play drums throughout, highlighting moments of action and movement and underlining the drama.

It’s amazing that in such a short amount of time, so many important themes, issues and traditions are explored in a manner that can’t help but inspire young minds to want to learn more.   In addition to the more obvious themes of war, the atomic bomb and radiation, there are also examples of respect for traditions, discipline at the home, love of family and the pain of eventual loss, not to mention that for many, A Thousand Cranes may even be a child’s initial introduction to the fun of origami.

Like everything throughout the play, the moment when the bomb drops is handled with taste, style and, in keeping with the traditions of Noh Japanese theatre, even elegance.   There’s a flash of light followed by a boom of sound.   “The thunderbolt,” Sadako’s father begins.   “It took our friends, it took our home. It took your grandmother.”

Cranes 2

Today, a statue of Sadako stands in Japan’s Hiroshima Peace Park.  Once a year there’s a holiday called Obon Day.   This is where the country remembers the spirits of ancestors and close family members who have passed on.   Each year, on Obon Day, Japan pays tribute to the young girl and other children who died from the radiation effects of the bomb by leaving thousands of paper cranes by the statue.   Childsplay’s A Thousand Cranes shows why.

Following the play, audiences are treated to both an Origami family activity plus a brief Q&A session with the cast.   This not only gives audiences a chance to ask questions regarding Sadako but also about theatre in general.   At the performance this reviewer attended a child asked Michelle a question regarding D.Daniel Hollingshead eye-catching costume designs, particularly Sadako’s kimono.   Michelle mentioned how long it would normally take someone from Japan to properly attire themselves of such a complicated outfit, then proceeded to unsnap Hollingshead’s clever all-in-one design illustrating how performers can effectively change costumes in an instant.   If excited comments overheard in the lobby after the show are anything to go by, this single, simple moment of theatrical reveal was just as inspiring to some as the play itself.   Think about it.  How priceless is that?

For more regarding times, dates and tickets CLICK HERE for the official Childsplay website.

Posted in Theatre

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