BLOOD to Mark The Garage's Debut Production
A Jewish-American reporter in Japan uncovers a conspiracy to cover up the government-sanctioned sale of HIV-contaminated blood products in a new political thriller with music inspired by true events. Written and directed by Obie and New York Outer Critics Circle Award-winner/DGA Award, two-time Golden Globe and five-time Emmy Award nominee Robert Allan Ackerman, the world premiere of BLOOD, based on the real-life "Japanese Tainted Blood Scandal," gets a five-week run beginning March 5 at The Complex on Hollywood's Theater Row. Featuring original music and songs by "The Virgins" bassist Nick Ackerman and "Jet" drummer/vocalist Chris Cester, BLOOD marks the debut production of L.A.'s newest theater company, The Garage.In the early 1980s, nearly 2,000 people, most of them hemophiliacs, died of AIDS after U.S. companies knowingly sold contaminated blood to Japan, where pharmaceutical companies continued to distribute non-heat-treated blood products despite the existence of heat treatments proven to prevent the spread of infection. The scandal triggered public outrage against the drug industry and the Japanese government officials charged with regulating it. Charges were filed against high-ranking officials in the Ministry of Health and Welfare, executives of the manufacturing company involved and a leading doctor in the field of hemophilia. The trial lasted over a decade. It wasn't until Feb. 25, 2000 that the Los Angeles Times reported "In a landmark decision that raises the standard for corporate accountability in Japan, an Osaka court Thursday sentenced three former pharmaceutical executives to prison for continuing to sell blood products they knew could be tainted with the AIDS virus even after safer substitutes were available." "One of the reasons this case took so long to unfold is that none of the victims or their families were willing to come forward," explains Ackerman, who lived and worked in Tokyo for nearly two decades. "Being polite, softspoken and deferential to authority is ingrained in the culture. To be sick with AIDS was a source of great shame. Even when the case finally went to trial, the plaintiffs testified from behind black curtains. In the end, it was a young boy who broke the silence, although even he did not publicly reveal his name for another 10 years. Today, Ryuhei Kawada, who miraculously survived, serves as a member of the Japanese Parliament." According to Councilor Kawada, "In 1995, at the age of 19, I revealed my real name as a victim of AIDS-tainted blood product, in order to fully fight against the government and the pharmaceutical company in the trial, wishing to never have such a disaster repeated ever again. Today, more than 20 years later and across the ocean in the United States, this stage play is created based on that incident - I am more than thrilled." Ackerman has blended fact and fiction to dramatize real events and added music to create a highly theatrical and stylized production. He was initially inspired by the recent nuclear accident at Fukushima. But contaminated blood products were back in the news last December when Kaketsuken, a Japanese manufacturer of blood products and vaccines that was a defendant during the trials, was accused of continuing to cover up the use of illegal additives in its products and of systematically faking records to hide its wrongdoing. Now, the play takes on an even greater urgency in light of recent events closer to home, such as the methane gas leak at Porter Ranch in California and the discovery of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan. The cast of BLOOD includes Gena Shaw as American reporter Jules Davis and Garage founder Sohee Park as the Japanese-Korean lawyer who heads up the investigation. Takuma Anzai takes on the role of Jules' former Tokyo college buddy, and Kazumi Aihara plays a hospital nurse who becomes an unwilling witness to unfolding events. Toshi Toda's Dr. Kazema is based on real-life Dr. Takeshi Abe who served as president of Japan's Aids Research Committee and the Hemophilia Society. Miho Ando portrays Koyo Ninomiya, the young "whistle blower" based on Councilor Kawada, and Saki Miata plays his mother. Also in the ensemble, playing multiple roles, are Ash Ashina, Anthony Gros, Takaaki Hirakawa, Michael Joseph, Andrew Nakajima, Daryl L. Padilla and Mika Santoh. Ackerman's directing credits are almost too numerous to list. In New York, he directed the Tony-nominated Broadway production of Martin Sherman's Bent starring Richard Gere and David Dukes; Slab Boys starring Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Val Kilmer; Oscar Wilde's Salome starring Al Pacino; Legs Diamond starring Peter Allen; and William Mastrosimone's Extremities starring Susan Sarandon, for which he received the Outer Critics Circle Award. As a resident director of Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival, he directed Thomas Babe's A Prayer for My Daughter (Obie Award for direction); Taken in Marriage starring Meryl Streep and Colleen Dewhurst; Fathers and Sons starring Richard Chamberlin and Dixie Carter; Salt Lake City Skyline starring John Lithgow and Fred Gwynne; O'Neill and Carlotta starring Jason Robards, Colleen Dewhurst and Madeline Kahn; and David Henry Hwang's Family Devotions. London credits include West End productions of Strangers On A Train; Extremities starring Helen Mirren; Torch Song Trilogy starring Sir Antony Sher; A Madhouse in Goa starring Vanessa Redgrave; Burn This starring John Malkovich and Juliet Stevenson; Our Town starring Alan Alda and Robert Sean Leonard; When She Danced starring Vanessa Redgrave; and the world premiere of Manuel Puig's Mystery of the Rose Bouquet starring Gemma Jones at the Donmar Warehouse. In Los Angeles, he directed Holiday starring Kevin Kline, Sally Kellerman and Maurice Evans (Ahmanson Theatre); Mystery of the Rose Bouquet starring Anne Bancroft and Jane Alexander and Scenes from and Execution starring Frank Langella and Juliet Stevenson (Mark Taper Forum); and Noel Coward's The Vortex starring Rupert Everett (Doolittle Theatre). While living in Tokyo, he directed numerous theater productions including Angels in America, for which he won the coveted Yomiuri Award; served as artistic director of The Company in Tokyo; and directed films including The Ramen Girl starring Brittany Murphy and Sohee Park. Other film credits include Safe Passage starring Susan Sarandon and Sam Shepard (Beatrice Wood Film Award); Life with July Garland: Me and My Shadows starring Judy Davis and Victor Garber (Television Critics Association and Broadcast Journalists Awards, as well as Emmy, DGA and Golden Globe nominations); Tennessee Williams' The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone starring Helen Mirren and Anne Bancroft (Emmy nomination); The Reagans starring James Brolin and Judy Davis; the Emmy Award-winning David's Mother starring Kirsty Alley, Stockard Channing and Sam Waterston; Forget Me Never starring Mia Farrow; Mrs. Cage with Anne Bancroft and Hector Elizondo; Double Platinum starring Diana Ross and Brandy; and Edith Wharton's The Reef starring Timothy Dalton and Leslie Caron. He was an executive producer on HBO's My House in Umbria starring Maggie Smith, for which he received a Producer's Guild Award as well as Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. Choreography for BLOOD is by Mark Swanhart; vocal coach/arranger is Bob Garrett; set and costume design are by Dona Granata; projections design is by Hana S. Kim; lighting design is by Donny Jackson; sound design is by Joseph "Sloe" Slawinski; assistant costume designer is Wendell C. Carmichael; and the stage manager is Benjamin Scuglia. Theatre Planners acts as consulting producer, and Kazumi Aihara is producing coordinator for The Garage. Performances of BLOOD take place on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., March 5 through April 3. Three preview performances take place on Friday, Feb. 26; Saturday, Feb. 27 and Friday, March 4, all at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 on Fridays and Saturdays and $25 on Sundays, except previews which are $20. The Complex is located at 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90038. To purchase tickets, call (323) 960-7745 or go to www.plays411.com/blood.