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By ELIZA BENT
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"It's funny how little gems stay with you and explode inside of your imagination," says director Joan Evans, referring to a short article about the life of Takashi Tanemori that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle soon after the events of September 11th in 2001. The article was about Tanemori, a Hiroshima orphan, and his journey from wanting revenge to seeking reconciliation. "It was a totally different point of view from anything I had read or heard about 9/11," Evans recalls.
The article became the inspiration for a workshop Evans did at the University of the South with her collaborator Harry Rubeck. Now, 12 years later, it is the jumping off point for Is It Already Dusk?, an original movement theatre piece by Evans and Rubeck. (The show co-presented by the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, and it's playing tonight and tomorrow at Irondale Ensemble Project in Brooklyn.)
Tanemori was the son of a Samurai, but after being orphaned at age eight he became a street urchin and vowed to avenge his father's death. At 18 he came to the U.S. and worked in California's salad bowl before being used a lab rat. While he was tested for the effects of radiation, a religious nurse inspired Tanemori to turn toward Christianity.
However, it wasn't until years later, when he was driving across the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, that Tanemori stopped seeking revenge. "He saw a cloud formation that began to bring back memories, so he pulled over," says Evans. "A butterfly flew into his car and spoke to him in his mother's voice. 'Revenge begets revenge.'" Tanemori has since written about his experiences in his book Hiroshima: Bridge to Forgiveness and founded the nonprofit Silkworm Peace Institute.
Evans contacted Tanemori, asking permission to use parts of his life story for the full production of Is It Already Dusk?. She heard back the next day from Tanemori and his co-writer John Krump. "They said, 'Yes. We loved your letter. Only, who's Stella Adler?'" Evans recalls with a laugh.
Since then Evans and Tanemori have struck up a friendship. (Tanemori will attend all the Irondale performances and participate in a number of talkbacks.) "It was important to me for him to know that the images we were going to be putting on the stage weren't all his images," says Evans. "Even though we've changed certain things in the story we've tried to keep the spirit there."
Is It Already Dusk? features Takashi as a young boy and as an older man. A character named Mary is a young woman who lives through the events of 9/11. "She is Takashi's counterpart and soul mate in the U.S.," Evans explains. As Takashi's story gets told in Japanese, Mary translates it into English.
"My very first solo show was in response to the Vietnam war," Evans points out, adding that she has also responded theatrically to the war in Bosnia. "Things that really happen in the world seep into my consciousness, and I have the need to do something about it. I hope audiences will consider working a little harder in the interest of world peace. Do something! As I see from Takashi, it's just one person at a time. If you touch people's hearts they are more apt to think about possibility of reconciliation."
Eliza Bent is a playwright, performer, and journalist living in Brooklyn
Photo by Virginia Rollison