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A Japanese woman in a traditional kimono stands on a sunlit path. She lifts her ravaged face and tells the story of an aging emperor, a beautiful young woman he desires and the invention of gunpowder: "The fates decreed that the search for a potion that would arouse sexual desire in the emperor's beloved caused the herbalists to invent gunpowder. Thus was born a weapon of such great force that it could strike from afar, so mighty that it could reduce every city to ash."
So begins "Black Rain," a bleakly beautiful play that looks at the lessons of Hiroshima in light of today's realities. It's wrapped around the story of a guileless and ignorant young American who goes to Hiroshima "to see for himself" the memories and evasions of those who lived at and after that time, and the fate of Mr. and Ms. Everyman when the bomb falls again in our time.
Conceived and directed by Ofira Henig, written and also adapted from original materials by Shimon Buzaglo, the drama will have its world premiere at the Israel Festival in the Khan Theater on May 31.
"It started a long time ago," says Henig of the play's genesis. She was watching an American action movie and, for a moment, the mushroom cloud bloomed in it, beautiful and monstrous; the aesthetics of horror she calls it. The moment made her start to research the subject, "and at a certain point I realized I wanted to make a play," she says.
To write it she enlisted the talents of prize-winning poet and translator Buzaglo, and in many cases the roles were written with particular actors in mind, such as Yussuf Abu-Varda (the Librarian), Salwa Nakura (the Japanese woman), Uri Ravitz (the Powers that Be), and Moti Katz and Liat Goren (the Everymans).
"Black Rain," agrees Henig, is not an easy play. It mercilessly holds to the light "people's utter helplessness on the one hand, and on the other their trust that the 'authorities' will not fail them, the willful blindness of the leadership and finally, the terrible desire and equally terrible inability to forget.
"At one point in the rehearsals I told the actors that for me art is reflecting out loud. Yes, I am striving for an objectivity, a distancing in the piece in order to make people think."
She had started with the idea that perhaps the important question was 'can we do anything?,' but as they worked Henig realized "more and more the basic futility of anybody's ability to 'do something.'"
Says the Librarian, "Nothing will help. Them's the dynamics on the ground - we thought we needed the bomb so as to prevent using it - [but] when there's a bomb, you want to use it. That's the dynamic - in every place and every time. It's like a rolling snowball that nobody can stop - that's the dynamic."
Henig says that the play has already been invited to festivals in Italy, Spain and New York.
"Black Rain" will play May 31, June 1 and 2 at the Khan Theater.
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