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Manassas Park High School’s poignant lessons in ‘Hiroshima’ production

Grace Donovan, a student at Osbourn High School, reviews “Hiroshima: Crucible of Light” performed by Manassas Park High School as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

Set against an all white set with a cast of white-clad actors and actresses, Manassas Park High School’s production of “Hiroshima: Crucible of Light” could almost be mistaken for a play set in the peaceful afterlife. However, the intention of the show is far from angelic. The play was an extended metaphor for the fatal follies of man. Centered on the bombing of Hiroshima, the conceptual set and straight choreography set the dark mood for this combination of symbolism.

Robert Lawson’s “Hiroshima: Crucible of Light” is an allegory for human tragedy. With modern characters like Oppenheimer (Jason Rose) and Einstein (Aaron DeLaGarza) mixed with classic references to Icarus (Kenny Moore) and King Lear’s Fool (Michele Katsaris) the play is more abstract art than a straightforward plot. It is Salvador Dali and Picasso synthesized onstage to create, not so much a storyline, but a historical tableaus with individual perspectives about man’s hubris. A Hiroshima survivor (Frank Kasik IV) and a paraplegic (Shannon Kitchen) underscore the motifs of human fragility and guilt.

Shanna Bess played Enola Gay—the plane that dropped the bomb over Hiroshima. Her compelling build-up in her dramatic monologue began at a near-whisper and ended chillingly shrill as she accused mankind of insensitivity. Bess also played the role of a schoolgirl from the Hiroshima bombing, and her final monologue had an innocence and desperation that garnered real tears from Bess and a stunned reverence from the audience.

Kitchen portrayed two different, engrossing characters. As a wheelchair-bound woman, she depicted paranoia and regret in her quivering voice and tense physicality. The marked transition to the character of Mom showcased Kitchen’s versatility on stage. She transformed into a bubbly and cheesy housewife, and, with her goofy smile and exaggerated gestures, she provided a sardonic justification for the bombing.

The script is ripe with allusion. With twists such as Oppenheimer becoming Oedipus, the show seemed intended for a knowledgeable audience. Although a difficult apologue-style thread held the production together, the cast seemed unfazed by its complexities and graphic nature, and interpreted the material commendably. The all-white costumes magnified strength. When lines were spoken in unison, the booming of their united voices was eerie but effective. Some stiffness was visible, and while some actors struggled to maintain a varied range in tone, the intended effect of the show was not lost.

An abstract, all-white, two-level set was minimalist but appropriate. Projections identifying scene changes and displaying real pictures from the bombing were shown on the back wall. One of the most interesting uses of the videos included having a girl walk onstage during a scene to sit in front of the pictures, essentially becoming part of the images. The costumes were purposefully plain to keep the focus on the acting and the show’s heavy symbolism. But the similar costumes often made it hard to keep track of the many characters.

One might have issues with the treatment of the scientists' characterization, but the show is designed to have a deeper lesson for the audience. Manassas Park High School demonstrated the delicateness of life: how in nine seconds everything we know can change forever. The production was a lesson in tolerance, in the sanctity of life, and makes the audience ponder, “What happens when those virtues go astray?”

By Grace Donovan, Posted by Mario Iván Oña  |  May 20, 2010; 9:20 AM ET
 | Tags: Cappies 2010  
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