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Japanese American Memorial

Remaining performances (tickets here):

Saturday, July 11 at 8:15 p.m. Monday, July 13 at 10:00 a.m. Tuesday, July 14 at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, July 16 at 10:00 a.m. Saturday, July 18 at 8:15 p.m. Monday, July 20 at 10:00 a.m. Tuesday, July 21 at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, July 23 at 10:00 a.m. Saturday, July 25 at 8:15 p.m.

They say:

A devised theatre piece about the Japanese Americans during WWII who volunteered to join the military in the face of great prejudice. We re-tell this story as a children’s fable with animal characters to reach out to a new generation.

Margot’s take:

Creating a play about Japanese-American involvement in World War II and having it appeal to children is challenging. Presenting such a play in the Japanese American Memorial, a location almost as hard to find as it is for this country to remember its subjects, is tougher. Though the play itself discusses the heroism of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the internment camps whose memorials overshadow the projection screen backdrop are noticeably absent.

Here’s how the animal allegory breaks down: A pair of cranes (Mother and Father) migrate to a larger stream and start a family (their son is Little Crane), only to discover that their duck neighbors are biased against them because of their appearances and traditions. When a fox in the east makes trouble for the frog and rabbit residents, Little Crane, desperate to convince his neighbors that he is as capable as they are, joins his ducky compatriots as they bravely volunteer to take action in the winged forces and defend their stream from the fox.

On the surface, this show for “all ages” would best be understood by kids ages four and up. The transformation of Japanese into cranes and Americans into ducks is charmingly accomplished by Candice Newton’s costumes, particularly as performers take on multiple roles. With a turtle puppet narrator (expertly handled by Phillip Reid), performers distributing props to audience members, and invitations to participate on and off stage, a gentle touch indicates how the play handles such tough topics as racial prejudice, world war, and hate crimes. Little Crane doesn’t flinch when it comes to portraying the cruelty of land reclamations and the teaching of prejudices by parents to their children.

These darker moments are tempered by spectacular physical comedy and lighter theme of kindness and doing what’s right. Playwright and director Hope Villanueva and her cast deftly concoct a hero’s journey that demonstrates how empathy and camaraderie can overturn racial prejudice. That said, given how the relentless bullying of the cranes doesn’t let up until the last few minutes of the show, these ideals only extend as far as those you share a pond with.

Although the historical lens will go over kids’ heads, this mild approach to presenting racial prejudice as duck-pond bullying will be sure to resonate with children and adults alike.

See it if: You are looking for a way to discuss big topics with little kids.

Skip it if: You aren’t open to interpretive history.

Photo courtesy of the Crane Fable Project