Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

A Thousand Cranes

Also see Gil's reviews of 2 Pianos 4 Hands, King Lear, Debbie Does Dallas and 42nd Street

Michelle Chin and Nathan DeLaTorre
Based on a true story, A Thousand Cranes tells the tale of twelve-year-old Sadako and her quest to make 1,000 paper cranes in order to save her life. This 45-minute play about peace and hope is a bit heavier, compared to other upbeat Childsplay favorites like The Cat in the Hat and Junie B. Jones. Yet, it is a perfect vehicle to discuss historical events with children and the continued struggle for peace in the world.

Sadako Saski was only 2 years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima. Ten years later, the energetic and athletic Sadako discovers a pain while running with her friend Kenji. After tests are run it's discovered that she has leukemia, an effect of the bomb. Kenji tells her of an old tale that says "if a sick person folds a thousand paper cranes the gods will grant her wish and make her well again." So she goes about the task of creating 1,000 paper cranes and in doing so we are shown how one girl's struggle to live can inspire hope in all.

The production is beautifully achieved and uses elements of Japanese Noh Theatre, one of the oldest styles of theatre, to help set the tone and location of the play. Director Dwayne Hartford expertly combines the elements of tradition, folklore, stylized movement, and the sound of percussion instruments to bring Sadako's story to life.

Michelle Chin, who last spring so effectively played the lost emotional girl in Stray Cat's The Whale, is perfect as the 12-year-old Sadako, affecting a soft squeaky voice and questioning glances as well as an ensured sense of determination. Elizabeth Polen and Nathan DeLaTorre portray the other roles, from grandmother to best friend Kenji and the ghosts of those killed in the bomb, with a loving sense of grace.

This production has been touring across Valley schools since October and only plays two weekends at the Tempe Center for the Arts before hitting the road again. Despite being a touring set, Holly Windingstad's scenic design is quite elaborate, with a wooden raised floor and a pagoda style roof to take us back to the time and setting of the play. The costumes by D. Daniel Hollingshead include beautiful kimonos to highlight the tradition of Japan, along with period touches in the school outfits for Sadako and Kenji. Daniel Black's lighting is vibrant and very effective in creating, at times, a dreamlike sense in the piece and, when combined with Joey Trahan's energetic sound design, tastefully represents the dropping of the bomb with a flash of bright light and a booming sound.

A Thousand Cranes is a poignant story that, while it may make younger theatregoers ask questions about death and the result of a town being bombed, is handled with style and grace to not frighten or upset anyone. It is an inspiring production and story. At the end of the play we are told that years after her death, a monument was built to honor Sadako and every year on the anniversary of the bombing thousands of people bring paper cranes to hang on the statue. The play will definitely inspire theatregoers young and old to find out more about Sadako and other victims of historical tragedies who have struggled to find word peace.

The tour continues through May at schools throughout the Phoenix area. Childsplay is still booking dates, and schools can contact them if they are interested.

A Thousand Cranes at Childsplay runs through January 25th, 2015, at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe, with performances on Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. Tickets are on sale at or at the Tempe Center for the Arts Box Office (480) 350-2822 (ext. 0).

Written by Kathryn Shultz Miller
Directed by Dwayne Hartford
Scenic Design: Holly Windingstad
Costume/Hair & Make-Up Design: D. Daniel Hollingshead
Lighting Design: Daniel Black
Sound Design: Joey Trahan

Mother/Grandmother/Actor 2: Elizabeth Polen
Kenji/Father/Actor 1: Nathan DeLaTorre
Sadako: Michelle Chin

Photo: Tim Trumbule

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix