Nine seconds is all it takes to dramatically change the world and alter the course of history. Robert Lawson's Hiroshima: Crucible of Light explores the great and large things that can happen to a person, to the world in the smallest amount of time. At the forefront of these small yet magnificent events is the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August, 1945. Also brought into focus is the brief amount of time it takes for a person to go from mobile to paralyzed, remembering to forgetting, seeing to blind. Through out the play, characters come to realizations or have accidents happen to them, all which take very little time. Marie Curie discovers radium, simply and quickly, and responds with “I have opened Pandora's Box.” The shortness of dramatic events fits in well with the structure of the play. It is a collage of time, place, and characters. The Fool from King Lear appears to J. Robert Oppenheimer, “the father of the atomic bomb,” a little boy recounts what happened when the bomb dropped, a woman recalls the accident that left her paralyzed.
Things overlap in Hiroshima, like actors double-cast as remarkably similar characters. The Woman in Wheelchair appears as Einstein's lover, also in a wheelchair. Speeches overlap as well, furthering the collage effect. The entire cast occasionally forms a chorus, standing in a group on stage, chanting together. A slow, mournful cello, played by Dmitri Friedendberg, anchors the often jittery movement of the cast. Upstage, a video projection, designed by Jared Mezzocchi, offers an even more frenetic and abstract version of the collage. Between the musician, the video, and the live actors, it occasionally feels as though there is too much to watch on stage at any given moment.
Certain parts of the collage seem out of place. A large portion of the play is somber in tone, with Oppenheimer and others pondering the what-ifs in life. However, midway through the play the “perfect nuclear family” is introduced, a family full of 1950's pep and post-nuclear apocalypse gadgets and costumes. The scene is humorous and and enjoyable to watch and thematically connected to the rest of the play, but as it is a complete shift in tone compared to the rest of the play, it is thus a little unsettling.
However, other elements incorporated into the piece work well. The Fool from King Lear (played Saysha Heinzman) appears early on, haunting Oppenheimer, played in a downtrodden, nervous manner by Peter Bean, as he builds the bomb and serving as a guide for him after he loses his way. Members of Oppenheimer's team begin quoting from Lear, beginning an interesting through line that comes to a brutal climax in the end. Additionally, the little boy's monologue is particularly moving. Played by Friedenberg, the cellist, the boy is seen below the video screen throughout the entire piece, but not heard from as a character till the end, when he places his cello down and comes forward.
Hiroshima is a close look at what can happen in barely the time it takes to blink an eye. For the most part, the various pieces of the collage: the music, the video, and the performers, create a very fine show. The play is frightening and thought provoking, leaving its audience to wonder about all the “what ifs” in life.
Hiroshima: Crucible of Light (85 Mins)
Untitled Theater Company #61 @ Walkerspace (46 Walker Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $18
Performances (Through March 15th): Wed 7:30PM, Sat 3:00PM, Sun 7:00PM