BWW Review: A Solid Production of BLOOD Fully Succeeds in Making You See Red!
BLOOD/written & directed by Robert Allan Ackerman/music & songs by Nick Ackerman & Chris Cester/The Complex/thru April 3, 2016
The world premiere of Robert Allan Ackerman's BLOOD receives a sturdy full-on, large theatre mounting by The Garage in the tiny space of The Complex. Easy to see this production transferring to a bigger house as-is. Ackerman's smart, in-depth script has adapted the actual 1980s events of a government conspiracy to sell HIV-contaminated blood products into an involving, totally wrenching two hours that will tear out the hearts of anyone with any inkling or experiences with the beginnings of the mystery lethal illness, now known as AIDS. Under Ackerman's expert direction, his large talented cast keep the action and emotions flowing fast and furious right up 'til the finalé. The combination of Nick Ackerman and Chris Cester's throbbing musical soundtrack with Hana S. Kim's effective video projections on set designer Dona Granata's three easily-rolling screens enhance and amp up the intensity and urgency of the quite serious situations presented. Locations smoothly change instantly from window-blinded apartment to sterile hospital rooms to various restaurants to rain-falling streets to moving train compartment and more.
After many years, American journalist Jules returns to Tokyo to get far, far away from the memories of her failed marriage and lost son. Jules luckily has Ken (an former Tokyo college chum) finding her an apartment to rent. Within a short span of time, a sickly Ken lands in the hospital ostracized from all other patients in his ward. Despite numerous attempts to find out the causes of Ken's illness and mistreatment, Jules' continually thwarted.
Yoji, a friend of Ken's looks up Jules to commiserate/reminisce on their mutual friend. Yogi wonders if Jules might know the actual cause of Ken's death. As Yoji explains to Jule, Japanese are pridefully secretive in almost all aspects of their lives, with any disclosure of simple medical matters (such as cause of death) one of them. When Yoji tells Jules he found out Ken underwent treatments for his hemophilia, Jules finally understands Ken's affinity for vampire stories.
Alexa Hamilton completely embodies Jules, a mother not yet over mourning the loss of her 9-year-old Noah. Her incredibly descriptive account of his demise makes you feel every raw moment of Jules' pain witnessing her own inescapable helplessness.
Sohee Park passionately portrays the heavily accented Yoji, the mixed Japanese/Korean attorney who eventually (together with Jules) champion the exposure of the Japanese Health Ministry in knowingly distributing HIV-contaminated blood.
The short-timed role of Ken receives much lively enthusiasm and joy of life from Takuma Anzai. Fortunately, for the audience, Anzai's talents continue onstage in various other characters, especially his integral part in The Ministers, a story-advancing identically-dressed Greek chorus of slapstick Charlie Chaplin-esque kabuki. Their combined vocals deliver powerful performances of "If You Want to Know Who We are," "We're the Ministers of Nippon," and especially "Caught With Fingers in the Jar."
Dr. Kazama, the respected head of a major Tokyo hospital and the Hemophilia Society, declares that all people of pure Japanese ancestry must be immune to AIDS. Toshi Toda infuses much misplaced bravado and privileged authority into his Dr. Kazama. Under Dr. Kazama's 'reign,' patients who died of AIDS had unrelated ailments listed as their causes of death. Under Dr. Kazama's 'guidance,' many people of 'pure Japanese ancestry' who lived moral lives became infected with the virus.
But Dr. Kazama did not act alone, as his assisting nurse Eiko reveals, finally coming forward to work with Yoji and Jules. Dr. Kazama's a member of the secret Chrysanthemum Club, with others from various Japanese government agencies and some from the drug companies funding his research.
Kazumi Aihara effortlessly illuminates Eiko's initial resistance, her indignation, frustration, her anger.
To complete Yoji and Jules' exposé on Dr. Kazama, an AIDS patient of 100% Japanese lineage must be found. Eiko learns of Koyo, a 9-year-old patient ((possibly with AIDS) and arranges a clandestine meet of Koyo, his mother Mrs. Ninomiya, Yoji and Jules. Miho Ando imbues Koyo with all the mature strength and courage way beyond his young age. Saki Miata's perfectly stoic as Mrs. Ninomiya with enough maternal love to overcome her inherent stoicism and make the correct moral choice.
Andrew Nakajima exhibits his strong speaking voice as Narrator (and others) while his smooth vocal chops present themselves in "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head."
Mika Santoh gives firm support as the dutiful Mrs. Kazama (and others ) performing a lovely traditional geisha dance.
Personally, I am all for color-blind casting. But when the subject matter deals with specific nationalities... I find casting the French Gros as the "all-Japanese fisherman" and the caucasian Joseph as the new Japanese Minister of Health a bit confusing/distracting.
Interesting that BLOOD ended and no one knew to applaud. But after a few moments of confusion, everything gave the applause they duly deserved.