In 1955, a group of 25 women disfigured by the nuclear blast at Hiroshima visited the United States to undergo reconstructive surgery. Their bizarre odyssey climaxed on the television program “This Is Your Life” in a face-to-face meeting with Enola Gay pilot Robert Lewis.
In Hiroshima Maiden, performance artist Dan Hurlin recreates this stranger-than-fiction tale through a combination of Japanese Bunraku-style puppetry and dance. The show, which premiered in New York last year, will make its St. Louis debut Friday and Saturday, April 22 and 23, at Washington University in St. Louis’s Edison Theatre.
Performances, presented by the Edison Theatre OVATIONS! Series, begin at 8 p.m. both evenings. Tickets are $28; $24 seniors and Washington University faculty and staff; and $18 for students and children. Tickets are available at the Edison Theatre Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call (314) 935-6543.
Hurlin first learned of the Hiroshima Maidens from David Serlin, a friend and medical historian who had written about them for his then-forthcoming book Replaceable You: Engineering the Body in Postwar America (2004). In 2001, Hurlin traveled to Hiroshima and interviewed one of the women, Michiko Yamaoka, who had been 15 at the time of the blast. Now an activist associated with the Hiroshima Peace Museum, Yamaoka agreed to allow Hurlin to base Hiroshima Maiden on her story.
WHO: Edison Theatre OVATIONS! Series
WHAT: Hiroshima Maiden, by Dan Hurlin
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 22 and 23
WHERE: Edison Theatre, Washington University, Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
TICKETS: $28; $24 for seniors and WUSTL faculty and staff; $18 for students. Available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, (314) 935-6543, and all MetroTix outlets
During that 1955 tour — undertaken to help pay for medical expenses — the Hiroshima Maidens became minor celebrities in the United States, even recording a pop song. Yet Hurlin points out that, in public appearances, they were only seen in silhouette because of a State Department blackout of images of survivors, which wasn’t lifted until 1964. (He was struck to find that the Museum of Television and Broadcasting archives lacked a copy of the Hiroshima Maiden episode of “This Is Your Life” — a consequence, he speculates, of the blackout.)
Hurlin, who is not so much a puppeteer as a theater artist working in the medium of puppetry, notes that Hiroshima Maiden incorporates a number of elements from Bunraku — a classical Japanese form dating back to the 17th century — as well as his own narrative devices. The cast includes nine puppeteers, a narrator (or tayu, in Bunraku parlance) and a cellist (standing in for the traditional shamisen player).
Hurlin designed and created the puppets after traveling to Japan and studying with master Bunraku puppeteers. The original score — which won a 2004 Village Voice Obie Award — is by composer Robert Een. (Ironically, Hurlin’s first meeting with Een occurred Sept. 11, 2001, in New York’s East Village.)
Edison Theatre is presenting Hiroshima Maiden in conjunction with the exhibition Inside Out Loud: Women’s Health in Contemporary Art, currently on view at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, part Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts. In all, more than 30 campus and community partners will join with the Kemper Art Museum throughout the spring to present close to 70 events relating to women’s health. The museum is located in Steinberg Hall, near the intersection of Forsyth and Skinker boulevards. For more information, call (314) 935-4523.
Hurlin has been creating puppet theater since 1980. Previous works include the Bessie Award-winning Every Day Uses for Sight Nos. 3 & 7 (2001) and The Day the Ketchup Turned Blue (1997), a 12-minute toy theatre piece. From 1980-93, he was the artistic director of Andy’s Summer Playhouse in Wilton, N.H., a program that facilitates creative collaborations between children ages 8-18 and internationally acclaimed artists.
In 1990, Hurlin received an Obie Award for his solo adaptation of Nathanael West’s A Cool Million. In 1998, his set for his chamber opera The Shoulder was nominated for an American Theatre Wing Design Award. Other works include The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1985); The New Hampshire Duets (1987); The Jazz Section (1988); Archaeology (1989); Constance and Ferdinand (1991); Quintland (1992); and NO (thing so powerful as) TRUTH (1995).
Edison Theatre’s OVATIONS! Series serves both Washington University and the St. Louis community by providing the highest caliber national and international artists in music, dance and theater, performing new works as well as innovative interpretations of classical material not otherwise seen in St. Louis. Focusing on presentations that are interdisciplinary, multicultural and/or experimental, Edison Theatre presents work intended to challenge, educate and inspire.
This production was funded in part by a grant from the Women’s Society of Washington University, the Regional Arts Commission, the Missouri Arts Council, and the Heartland Arts Fund, a program of Mid-America Arts Alliance and the National Endowment for the Arts.