You've heard of Oskar Schindler. Now it's time for Chiune Sugihara.
Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat stationed in Lithuania in 1940, is estimated to have saved the lives of more than 6,000 Jews. According to spokesperson James LL Morrison, until he was moved to a post in Berlin, Sugihara hand-wrote more than 1,600 visas (in 28 days time).
He wasn't exactly a considered a hero in his homeland. The Japanese government considered him disloyal and didn't apologize to Siguhara's family until Oct. 3, 1991 -- two days before the Japanese sent a mission to establish diplomatic ties with the newly independent Lithuania. A month earlier, a street outside the Japanese consulate in Lithuania was renamed in Sugihara's honor. Sugihara had died in 1986.
If Japan begrudgingly acknowledged Sugihara's actions, Japanese playwright Koichi Hiraishi has been making them known worldwide. His 1972 play, Virtue: Senpo Sugihara, has been performed internationally and now comes to NYC's Sylvia & Danny Kaye Playhouse, Jan. 16-23, opening Jan. 18. The show premiered in Tokyo to celebrate the 20th annniversary of the Gekidan Dora Theatrical Company, founded by Suzuki Mizuho and Hayakawa Shoji "to democratically express...thoughts on peace, love and humanity." Virtue still plays in Japan at Tokyo's Asahi Seimei Theatre.
[In 1972 Israel officially recognized Sugihara's efforts and in 1985 honored him with the Righteous Among Nations Award.] Now Gekidan Dora comes to New York courtesy of producer Kazuto Ohira, of International Cultural Production. He's been responsible for acquiring the rights to 35 Broadway productions staged in Japan by local casts, as well as American-cast touring shows brought to Tokyo.
Shoichi Yamada directs this mounting (in Japanese with English supertitles) which features Fumio Sato (Sugihara), Nobuko Hiraguchi, Shouichi Yamada, Hayao Senda, Saho Yatagawa, Tomoko Gungi, Yuri Hasegawa, Hidehito Morita, Hisao Yokote, Motohiko Tateno and Jun Kuriki.
Designing Virtue are Yoshiaki Sono (sets), Mayumi Ryoji (costumes), Genichiro Yokota (lighting) and Naokatsu Nakajima (sound).
Eiryu Ko provides the musical underscoring, arranged by Kouichi Iizuka.
For tickets ($30; students $10) and information on Virtue: Senpo Sugihara at the Kaye Playhouse on 68th St., call (212) 722-5207.
-- By David Lefkowitz