By Chiori Miyagawa. Directed by Jean Wagner. The Ohio Theater. (CLOSED)
Chiori Miyagawa's exploration of Hiroshima's place in the popular consciousness proves somewhat divisive amongst the critics. Martin Denton swoons over the layered text (which expands upon the French New Wave classic it takes its name from) while Helen Shaw actually despairs for the next generation of experimental theatre artists. Sitting in the middle are mostly respectful takes from the Times, Backstage and the Voice.
(Martin Denton) Miyagawa considers memories and their owners in this complex, layered work... a rich, challenging, sometimes difficult (though always accessible) piece. On its surface the play seems to be about appropriation of memories, in the manner that the French Woman in the dialogue quoted above suggests that the world has somehow assumed Hiroshima's mantle of sadness out of regret. The question is, does that equate to assumption of responsibility? Is it, instead, usurpation?...The play is performed by Joel de la Fuente, Juliana Francis-Kelly, and Sue Jean Kim, all of whom do superb work. Innovative multimedia design by Glenn Reed, Rick Martin, Hap Tivey, and Du Yun contribute much to the ethereal feel of the show.
(Leonard Jacobs) The play makes brittle poetry of unimaginable horror... Miyagawa's goal isn't to re-inflict old wounds—World War II was hastened to a close, historians say, by President Truman's decision to nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Rather, it's to replace Resnais' romanticizing of mushroom clouds with newer, more complex metaphorical arrangements. For Hiroshima is not just one story among many; it's the story of our age. She also creates especially well observed characters—you might detect slivers of yourself in the performances, none of which hits false notes. No doubt the actors were nurtured by Jean Wagner's staging, which is pretty as a lilac, and by Hillary Spector's choreographic diversions.
Village Voice B
(Sharyn Jackson) A contemporary dialogue about history and personal memory around re-enacted film scenes in which Resnais's two lovers engage in bedside physical and psychological therapy—while the ghost of a lost betrothed delivers gory details about melting skin. In the present-day sections, the malleable actors (Joel de la Fuente, Sue Jean Kim, and Juliana Francis-Kelly) play pals gathered for movie night, where Hiroshima's consequences are confined to a Netflix envelope; though they bicker, they never come to a consensus about who has the right to feel angry or moved by the horrors of the past. Shifting screens surrounding the stage invoke the motion-picture theatricality of history, but director Jean Wagner's use of explosive graphics is the only cheap shot in this play. Stark descriptions of the bomb's aftermath are graphic enough.
The New York Times B
(Wilborn Hampton) A mostly effective but occasionally affected exploration of Alain Resnais’s 1959 film... Three fine, understated performances by Joel de la Fuente as the architect, Juliana Francis-Kelly as the actress and Sue Jean Kim as the Japanese victim, under Jean Wagner’s subdued direction, give the play a quiet dignity. In the end, of course, as the actress is frequently told, we know nothing of Hiroshima. Only those who were there can know what it was like. But Ms. Miyagawa’s play is a reminder of how little we understand.
(Andy Buck) As intriguing as many of the playwright's concepts are, they are undermined by a cast -- directed by Jean Wagner -- who don't quite connect to their roles or to each other. The performances of Joel de la Fuente and Juliana Francis-Kelly may be intended to be a mere comment on the film's central romance but, in order to do that effectively, they still need a certain chemistry that they lack. Sue Jean Kim fares only a little better with her ghostly utterances. And all three actors look awkward and halting in the evening's occasional movement passages, which are choreographed by Hillary Spector. They do, however, possess some nice comic timing. The production is well-supported by its design team.
Lighting & Sound America D
(David Barbour) There's a lot on Miyagawa's mind, including the horror of the bombing, the meaning of similar incidents (such as the firebombing of Dresden), Japan's role in its own downfall, racism, gender identity, and the role of art in romanticizing the horrors of war. But bringing up issues isn't the same thing as exploring them -- and it becomes frustrating to see so many fascinating ideas mentioned, then dropped, as the author moves on to other things. Nothing acquires any weight, and the script begins meandering in search of a meaningful conclusion.
Time Out NY D
(Helen Shaw) What must have seemed, in the planning stages, like an audacious reworking of the 1959 Alain Resnais film, fails depressingly on all fronts. Miyagawa borrows from the Marguerite Duras screenplay—a star-crossed story of a French woman falling for a Japanese man—and then pans beyond the frame, showing us the relationships left out of Resnais’s storytelling. This results in a clamor of voices, including modern-day deconstructions (“I think it’s politically questionable”) and commentary from one of Hiroshima’s dead. The project is interesting; Miyagawa’s problem is entirely in execution. The playwright doesn’t solve—or really address—the transition between media, and thus the doomed love affair so gorgeously melodramatic on screen bloats into absurdity.
NYTR A 13; BS B+ 11; VV B 10; NYT B 10; TM C+ 8; LSA D 4; TONY D 4; TOTAL: 8.57 (B-)