With one musical theatre piece, New York Rock, already under her belt, Yoko Ono is returning to the theatre world in a collaboration with writer/director Ron Destro. Hiroshima, an epic play with music about Japanese families hit by the 1945 atomic bomb, began previews at NY's Theatre For The New City, Oct. 2. The show opens Oct. 9 and runs to Nov. 2.
Some of Ono's music appeared on her 1995 CD, "Rising." Destro had written to Ono repeatedly in 1994 about the project and, according to the show's press release, finally got her attention by sending her a bouquet of unusual blue flowers. He also reminded her that 1995 was the 50th anniversary of the bombing, which caused Ono and her family to flee Japan.
"In his script there is a scene where a little girl tries to fold 1,000 paper cranes," wrote Ono in her album liner notes. "In Japan, there is a tradition of folding 1,000 paper cranes to make a wish, [but] the little girl dies before she is able." Touched by that idea, Ono went into the studio and recorded "Hiroshima Sky Is Always Blue," which was broadcast in Hiroshima on the 50th anniversary of the bombing. Soon thereafter she recorded "Kurushi," which translates, roughly, to "pained" or "suffocating". "That little girl was me," she realized.
Ono also felt the play bringing back memories of her mother: "In the dark booth of the studio, I felt my soul-antenna reaching out for her and touching only emptiness. It was sad, but it also made my head clear."
After that, creating the score for Hiroshima became "a purging of my anger, pain and fear." Modern parallels are drawn in the piece between the leukemia suffered by bomb victims and AIDS. Appearing in Hiroshima are Aaron Angello, Celia Apaletegui, Alan Benson, Vanessa David, Joseph C. Davies, Ariel Estrada, Pamela Hurt, Toru Ohno, Eric Rasmussen, Joe Sorge, Angela Tom, Emily Jo Weiner, Adrienne D. Williams, Jason Williams, Coleman Zeigen and Sichin Song, who is also designing the set and costumes. Arthur Abrams serves as music director. Because three of Ono's Hiroshima tunes involve her signature vocal cries and noise, they will be played on tape. The rest will be sung by the cast to the accompaniment of bamboo poles, bells, drums and synthesizer.
As for the play itself, realistic scenes mix with haiku and other adapted poetry. Director Destro says the drama will incorporate elements of Butoh and other Japanese movement rituals. Previous Destro plays include Bolivian Oblivion, Subway Stops and Clubfoot The King. He's married to the aforementioned actress/designer Song.
Artistic director Crystal Field had been interested in Destro's script even before Ono added music to it. So why is Hiroshima coming to Theatre For The New City in 1997 -- two yearsafter the anniversary? It took two years to raise the money. Now that the production is ready, Field says she's excited by the prospect of "a combination of professional and amateur performers who are involved in the search for peace on this planet."
For tickets ($10) and information on Hiroshima at Theatre For The New City, First Ave. & East 10th St., call (212) 254-1109.
--By David Lefkowitz