Theater Review: A Thousand Cranes by Studio 52 at Flat Rock Playhouse

The cast of the Studio 52 production of A Thousand Cranes at the Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown.

Flat Rock Playhouse is home to the impressive Studio 52 youth theater ensemble. It’s impressive thanks to its ambitious productions and earnest performances. All of this and more are on display in A Thousand Cranes. The show runs through Sunday, Nov. 20, at the Flat Rock Downtown space.

Written by Kathry Schultz Miller, A Thousand Cranes follows the life of a young girl named Sadako and her family as they struggle to survive the aftermath the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It’s heady, emotional stuff for a youth theater to take on. But director Dave Hart knows that his young actors are up to the challenge, and guides them through an emotionally riveting and visual luscious production.

The show opens with a stunning Kabuki theater-style dancer, who inhabits the stage with a silent, flowing grace. The show, at times, delves into Japanese culture and ritual, and the presence of this Kabuki Lion Dancer amplifies the differences between our culture and theirs. Sara Jane Killian performs this role with a poetic flourish.

The opening sequence is a series of vignettes that brings the audience from the humble lives of those living in Hiroshima to that fateful day, when the bomb — known as “Little Boy” — dropped from the Enola Gay bomber and forever altered countless innocent lives. The opening also includes Travis Pressley as an Enola Gay officer. He shares the reactions of the airmen who had no idea of the devastating impact of their duty that day. It is haunting and refreshing to experience that often-overlooked perspective.

By the end of the opening sequence, many audience members were softly weeping. It packs an emotional wallop. The show pivots to the mundane day to day lives that the survivors cobble for themselves afterward. For Sadako, reality is worrying about winning a school relay race and playing with her friends. The normalization after such a traumatic event is stark, and reminds us of the innocence of children. But Sadako’s youthful journey is interrupted by Leukemia (which she develops a full decade years after the bomb decimated her family’s lives and home). Her fight to overcome the disease is often sad, but also inspiring.

Many of the roles are cast with actors who alternate weekends of performance, but several play the same roles across the full run. Andrew Johnson and Aniela Lane play Sadako’s parents, and though they are clearly too young to comprehend the span of emotions required, they give it their all and provide a solid anchor of emotion for the show.

Nearly two dozen young actors are a part of this production, with a dozen more involved behind the scenes. Their ambitious production is remarkable in its execution, and holds its own as a serious piece of theater, youth or otherwise. These kids and their families and friends should be proud of the powerful message they are presenting.

WHAT: A Thousand Cranes by Studio 52
WHERE: Flat Rock Downtown, 125 S. Main St., Hendersonville. frpstudio52.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, Nov. 20. Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. $10-$18.

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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