by Wendy Coyle · August 17, 2014
A piano and a fedora-wearing musician set the mood with 1930s favorites as the house fills. Songs like Ain’t Misbehavin, Dream a Little Dream of Me and Someone to Watch Over Me foreshadow the story line and will be themes. A three-panel Japanese rice paper wall marks center stage and will be used as entrance and exit doors and for projections and shadow puppets. Two suitcases, a man’s overcoat and hat are props. Soon, bunraku-style Japanese puppets, shadow puppets, origami animals and a gifted troupe from Australia will turn these into a heartwarming multicultural tale that spans 60 years and several continents.
Adapted from the real life of Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who defied his superiors and followed his own conscience during World War II to issue visas that saved 6,000 Jewish lives, we see his life (in this adaptation he is called Kiyoshi) in multiple scenes from childhood in Japan to his last years in Japan. Kiyoshi, played with a mix of power and gentleness by Brian Liau, is the “warrior” of the title and takes to heart the Samurai maxim, “Even a hunter cannot kill a bird which flies to him for refuge.” When he enters government service, he swears loyalty to his superiors and accepts another Japanese maxim, “The boss is always right.”
Assigned as Consul to Lithuania in 1939, Kiyoshi encounters a Jewish refugee and his niece, survivors of a pogrom, who run a puppet show on the street. Kiyoshi is captivated by Jakob and the niece Anna, whom he calls “princess.” They become friends and Kiyoshi becomes aware of the Jewish plight. As the war displaces more and more with nowhere to run, he asks his superiors in Japan for permission to get them out by issuing visas. He is refused.
As Kiyoshi’s two codes conflict, a helpless bird that has flown in and out of the story using shadow puppets, origami and sound effects comes to symbolize the plight of the refugees as well as Kiyoshi’s inner conflict. In one memorable scene Kiyoshi writes yet another telegraphic plea to Japan, slowly folds the paper into a white origami bird and attaches it to a black wire. In slow motion his assistant wafts the wand across the stage into the hands of his evil bunraku puppet boss who unhooks it, then tosses it to the ground.
The Warrior and the Princess is a delightful show put together by a highly skilled ensemble that plays multiple characters, creates and works puppets, directs light and sound. Shirley Van Sanden has written a beautiful script while piano, costumes and sound effects are perfect. The multi-talented Monica Main, Mark Turton, Rhoda Lopez, Ian Toyne, Brian Liau and the crew create more theater enchantment in one hour plus than many companies do in three times that.