I was deeply moved by this simple play. It’s amazing what three actors with a few props can do in only 40 minutes. “A Thousand Cranes” is based on the true story of Sadako, a 12-year-old Japanese girl, and her battle with leukemia. I had heard this story before but forgotten its details. They were brought beautifully to life in this production of Kathryn Schultz Miller’s play.
Two years old when the bomb fell on Hiroshima, Sadako was sheltered by her mother and seemed to have escaped damage. Ten years later, she is training to run in a race, pushing herself to go faster and faster. When fatigue sets in and she is unable to run much, her illness is diagnosed.
As her situation seems hopeless medically, she embraces an old legend, that if she makes 1,000 paper cranes her wish will be granted by the gods. We see her pursue this task as determinedly as she did her running, but death takes her before she completes it. In the epilogue, standing on a chair, she tells us that her classmates finished the project for her and that Sadako is honored with a statue atop a peace monument in a Japanese park, where she stands holding a golden crane.
Holly Payne-Strange is appealingly vulnerable as Sadako, although I wish the cast had been Japanese. My friend Mary Sheeran suggested that maybe director Masha Obolensky was trying to portray universality, but I would have preferred specificity. This is the story of a particular horror that would have been strengthened by an Asian cast, especially since Obolensky uses recordings of ancestors speaking in Japanese and is good about recreating customs of honoring those ancestors who are portrayed as Japanese in drawings on screens always present behind Sadako and her family.
“A Thousand Cranes” was presented in only one performance at 59E59 Theaters as part of East to Edinburgh 2007, 12 American productions headed to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. As part of this I will be seeing “Grasmere” on Thursday, so stay tuned for that posting.