Joel de la Fuente, Juliana Francis-Kelly, Sue Jean Kim
Currently playing at the Ohio Theater as part of the Hiroshima Project, which commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the American’s bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima, Chiori Miyagawa’s new play I Have Been to Hiroshima Mon Amour seeks to blur time and space in unique and interesting ways, addressing complex issues of identity and memory.
The action takes place in a playing space defined by an arrangement of projection screens which can be swung into a variety of positions in order to accommodate the action.
The flexibility of the space allows for a fluidity of motion that suits Miyagawa’s often poetic text, which is sometimes subtle and rather moving despite occasionally veering toward melodrama.
Much of the play, which is shaped around the action of the 1959 French film Hiroshima Mon Amour, centers on a pair of lovers – a French movie actress (Juliana Francis-Kelly) and a Japanese man (Joel de la Fuente) whose wife (Sue Jean Kim) died during the Hiroshima bombing in 1945.
Their love story is juxtaposed against modern-day scenes in which the three actors play New Yorkers settling in to watch the film and who strike up a debate over whether the film is was made in good faith or whether it disregards the weight of history in its trivialization of the events in Hiroshima.
There are a number of interesting ideas brought up, and the staging is often dynamic and interesting, sped along by Jean Wagner. Still, the productions falls prey to a number of pitfalls. Hippy-dippy modern dance elements choreographed by Hillary Spector seem like they could have added to the drama if they were more rooted in characters’ motivations but, as rendered, fall flat. And despite the earnest efforts of Sue Jean Kim as the fallen wife, the rest of the cast fails to rise to the occasion and instead end up seeming hemmed in by the ideas of the play rather than free to explore them.
I commend Miyagawa for mostly avoiding the pitfalls of “issue plays.” There’s more substance to what’s on-stage here than a mere reenactment of events or a simple-minded assessment of past wrongdoings. But in trying to get at the core of what are essentially unexplainable and horrific events, somehow or other some of the essence of the thing’s been lost. As it stands, I Have Been to Hiroshima Mon Amour is more a theatrical exercise than a life force with evident vital signs.