A bird in the hand

A Thousand Cranes

Sadako (Brandi Fierro, on gurney) gets a visit from spirits on her way into the afterlife.

Sadako (Brandi Fierro, on gurney) gets a visit from spirits on her way into the afterlife.

Rated 3.0

It’s hard for adults to watch kids’ shows. Barney’s annoying, and the Teletubbies are just creepy. Those weird costumes, high-pitched noises, strange music, and their innappropriate laughter. It’s all unnerving to sensible adults, but kids eat it up. Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) Theater’s performance of A Thousand Cranes works along those lines.

The play is based on a children’s book titled Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr, which in its turn was based on a true story. Katherine Schultz Miller’s stage adaptation targets children from second through fifth grades. The story involves Sadako (played here by Brandi Fierro), a young girl from Hiroshima, Japan, who at age 2 encounters radiation from the 1945 atomic blast. At 12, she develops radiation sickness (leukemia). Her best friend, Kenji, played by Ben Bernardy, tells her of an old legend that says if a sick person folds 1,000 paper origami cranes, the gods will make her well.

This production, directed by TMCC Professor Paul Aberasturi and performed entirely by TMCC students, handles adult themes rather well. Although Sadako dies, the overall feeling of the show is optimistic, positive and heartwarming. While in the hospital, the spirit of Sadako’s grandmother (Sylvia Olsen) pays her a visit. She introduces Sadako to the spirits of her ancestors, teaching her not to fear death. And though Sadako’s dream of winning the town’s foot race is never realized, we understand that she may still fly like the wind someday.

The costuming and props are rich, colorful and exotic—a pleasure to look at. For instance, the Empress, played by Amanda Alvey, wears an elaborate kimono, traditional geisha make-up and a beautifully styled wig of deep black hair. Such costumes, paired with fun scenes like the Samurai Warrior (Oscar Ovies) swordfight, give the show a ballet-like feel. The traditional Japanese music and the multi-colored paper cranes filling the stage all enrich the experience.

The performance is not without its flaws, however. The dialogue is stilted and humorless (even when trying to be funny), and on its own, the story is hard to follow. Therefore, Aberasturi must explain the show first; his preamble, while helpful for following the story, is too long and preachy. The cast opts mostly for overly dramatic acting and too-forced cheerfulness. Fierro’s Sadako is uncomfortable and awkward to watch. While Bernardy’s Kenji is slightly better, paired with Fierro, he’s too syrupy sweet. Sadako’s parents, played by Karen Donathan and Oscar Ovies, are emotionless. Upon hearing their daughter is dying, they react as if dinner were running late. All the while, in the background, a lone voice, as pleasant to hear as nails on a chalkboard, croaks into a microphone the incredibly slow count to 1,000 cranes.

However, the fact remains that this show is intended for young children. It’s just the right length–under an hour–and it’s as visually appealing as can be. The elementary school class in the audience thoroughly enjoyed it. While the performers’ abilities aren’t top-notch, their enthusiasm is. Plus, there are cultural and historical lessons to be learned here. For these reasons, I’d recommend it.