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'A Thousand Cranes' is a plea for peace

Sadako (Shannon Hensley) receives a paper crane from Kenji (Richie Uminski) in \"A Thousand Cranes\" at BYU.
Sadako (Shannon Hensley) receives a paper crane from Kenji (Richie Uminski) in \"A Thousand Cranes\" at BYU.

"A Thousand Cranes," Brigham Young University's Young Company, through Feb. 13, Nelke Theatre, Harris Fine Arts Center (801-422-4322); running time: 45 minutes.

PROVO — Folded paper cranes could not heal Sadako Sasaki's leukemia, but they continue to offer hope that the world can avoid another act of atomic destruction.

BYU's production of "A Thousand Cranes," by the Young Company, explores the life of young Sadako, who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, but died later from the aftereffects.

Initially it's difficult to look past Japanese characters being played by white BYU students, especially the tall, blond Cameron Asay, who plays Sadako's father.

That concern dissipates with the performance of Shannon Hensley, who enthusiastically plays 12-year-old Sadako. Hensley and Richie Uminski, who plays her friend Kenji, are well cast and give the most natural and believable performances.

Asay and Caitlin Cotten seem somewhat stiff as Sadako's parents, but perhaps that's just their interpretation of reserved Japanese culture.

Because the Young Company travels across Utah performing the 45-minute play for elementary schools, the only scenery is a painted backdrop with the red Japanese sun, flanked by cranes and a watercolor mountain.

The story begins in 1955 with Sadako desperate to win an upcoming foot race.

In a small flashback, we learn Sadako was 2 when the atomic bomb fell as her grandmother was pouring tea.

Through the use of facemasks to indicate death, the audience quickly learns her grandmother (Darla Jones) was a victim.

Sadako continues to race with Kenji, but becomes ill and is taken to the hospital, where she is diagnosed with leukemia.

While she's in the hospital, Kenji brings her a paper crane and paper and reminds her of the story that if someone folds 1,000 cranes, the gods will grant their wish to be healed.

As she folds more cranes, she tells her parents she doesn't care about her missed race and is focusing on a new kind of race.

"If I fold them fast enough, then I don't have to die," she says in one of the most poignant lines of the play.

As she sickens, her grandmother's spirit comes to visit as the rest of the cast is still counting aloud. The audience finally realizes the counting refers to the number of cranes Sadako has folded.

The actors use dramatic hand and body motions, almost like interpretive dance, to represent flying as Sadako and her grandmother travel and hear from the spirits of other bomb victims (Jes Griffin, Anna Hargadon and Jon Low).

As the journey nears an end, Sadako's grandmother tells her the bomb also brought her here, and Sadako must leave the rest of the cranes for her family to fold. She had only reached 644.

But Sadako's wish for peace lives on, the cast explains at the end, thanks to a statue of Sadako holding a crane in her arms at the Children's Peace Monument in Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park.

"This is our cry," a plaque at the base reads. "This is our prayer: for building peace in the world."

Young children, who are welcome to attend this BYU production, may not understand the play fully unless they're aware of Sadako's story.