I Have Been to Hiroshima Mon Amour
The Women Center Stage Festival, which runs from April 8 to 27 at the Culture Project, will feature women artists “whose work calls attention to human struggles globally.” The schedule includes panels, performance and theater works which range from the entertaining to the provocative. Included in the lineup are a project by Andolan Theatre with New York City immigrant domestic workers as actors and storytellers, a play by seven American playwrights about seven women around the world who have struggled against injustice, a musical by Lenelle Moise that explores black womanhood, a new work in two voices by writer/performer Heather Woodbury, and an adaptation by playwright/performer Eisa Davis (currently starring in Passing Strange) of a memoir by Melba Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine who initiated the integration of American schools. There will also be panels considering the experience of women in the military and one on women and the criminal justice system (among others).
The three characters, a Japanese woman who was killed instantly when the bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, her lover, an architect who attempts to rebuild in the ruins of his city, and a French actress in Hiroshima to make a film about peace who becomes the architect’s lover, travel through three time periods: 1945, 1959, and today. The play is both a provocative riff on a classic French film with a similar title, (and the Eurocentric eye implicit in that film) and an ironic comment on our current engagement in war.
Jean Wagner, director of the play and artistic director of Voice and Vision, says about the Hiroshima project, “I brought the idea of the play to Chiori. I am compelled by the juxtaposition of such horror (Hiroshima) and such love. I think it's important right now that we see people as people, and not as ethnicities. I feel like the Japanese Woman is so important, as a character who bears witness to the atrocity of Hiroshima. We so often forget that real people die in war – and particularly in Hiroshima, where the bodies essentially vanished. I love the way that Chiori has, in such spare and poetic language, evoked the after-effects of such a momentous moment in the history of wars, and made the people involved so immediate.”
One of the refrains that moves throughout the play is, “There is no more Hiroshima,” a statement that evokes both the absence of the place that once was, and the naïve hope that it will never happen again. Absence or lack—what was wiped out—is conjured not only in terms of place, but in terms of body. The man says, “I’ve been thinking about you….About your hair and your skin. Your lips and your eyes,” To which the Japanese woman replies, “All gone.” This same character says, in the first scene of the play, “There is no Hiroshima. There will never be Hiroshima again.” The final words of the play are the man saying, “Of course I believe it. Of course we believe it. Never again.”
If only it were so. But we haven’t learned from history. We have to repeat our words until we do. Women Center Stage promises to remind us of the terms of engagement, and of what is at stake.
For a complete listing of the Theater, Film and Panel Discussion offerings at Women Center Stage, stop by the Culture Project (55 Mercer Street, Manhattan)! Or check them out at:
Champagne is an associate professor of drama in the Conservatory of Theatre Arts, SUNY Purchase.