Embers that burn hot, if not cooled sufficiently, can rekindle a fire presumed extinguished. Director Joan Evens—co-creator with Harry Rubeck—brings forth the story of Takashi Tanemori, a man who learns to extinguish flames of hate and revenge, in the original physical performance piece Is It Already Dusk?
Performed in the once-derelict space that was the historical Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, Is It Already Dusk? is co-presented by the Stella Adler Studio of Acting and the Irondale Center. The large cast of sixteen actors stomp and roll, cry and recite poetry while running across the performance space, leaping in gas masks and wielding yards-long wire sculptures in the shape of wings.
The play begins with a pantomime: young Tanemori plays with an origami crane as his mother watches patiently. The idyllic scene of childhood bliss is shattered when the atomic bomb hits Hiroshima, killing his mother and ushering in a line of soldiers; their heavy boots rhythmic like a beating drum. This scene transforms the seemingly empty space into a dreamscape: lights project onto the bodies of the soldiers, issuing long, ominous shadows on the wall where the remains of Bible scriptures hang. Army generals keep vigilance from the second floor, watching the whole scene while the young boy pulls his hair in horror.
All the while a man whimpers in the front row of the audience. He sits quietly sobbing; one wrinkled hand covers his face while the other holds his companion dog Yuki’s leash. This is the real Takashi Tanemori, the man whose life inspired the production.
Next it is clear that decades have gone by and Tanemori is an adult, living in the United States. It is the day of September 11, 2001. Men and women walk on stage seemingly unaware of each other’s existences, while a middle-aged Tanemori watches them from the second floor. They stop in horror as they see what is happening in the distance, somewhere above the audiences members’ heads.
The rest of the performance from this point forward consists of retellings of people’s experiences of 9/11: a survivor pushes through the rubble and looks for people who are breathing, a woman on the computer slowly learns the news of the attack, a woman tumbles gracefully from the towers, a couple laughs and kisses before one of them leaves, never to return. The only words spoken come from Tanemori or from selections of poetry inspired by the tragedy. The rest is expressed through dance and pantomime.
Some of the scenes performed are more abstract than others, making them difficult to comprehend—at one point a man is outfitted with large metal wings that he struggles to carry. They look like a bird’s wings though they could also be the wings of a plane. It takes a very long time for the actors to dress the man in his cage-like costume, and
ultimately it is unclear what he is meant to symbolize.
The most successful element of the performance is its use of sound. Live musicians sit at the front of the stage, playing a violin, a cello and a piano. Onstage, the actors transform themselves from mimes into musicians using buckets and their voices as instruments. In one highly effective instance, repeated intakes of breath are used to transform a private scene of daily life (walking to work in the city) into a collective feeling of shock, speechlessness and helplessness.
“I came to the United States to seek revenge for the death of my parents,” an older Tanemori explains in Japanese. Instead of finding retribution for his loss in the events of 9/11, Tanemori recognizes the destruction and pain in the horrific scene: “the images were sickeningly familiar.” Instead of finding satisfaction in death, Tanemori advocates forgiveness in life. The message is a powerful one though, in this case, it is definitely enhanced by the presence of the man who lived it all.
What makes this play exciting is not its relationship to New York City, but rather its conclusion: revenge and violence will only harbor more revenge and violence, a message that is still timely and relevant nearly 70 years after the bombing of Hiroshima and 12 years after the events of September 11th.