The Fallout of 'A-Bomb Beauties' Is Irony

Forty-five years ago Monday, Hiroshima disappeared. Ten years later, 25 women scarred from the atomic blast were brought to the United States for reconstructive surgery. "A-Bomb Beauties," premiering at the Burbage Theatre, is the story of those Hiroshima maidens, filtered through a dramatist's imagination.

Playwright Dan Seymour uses the actual odyssey to dramatize issues of guilt and forgiveness, but he shuns the hamstrings of docudrama. For one thing, the philanthropist in the play who brings the women over (a convincing performance by Timothy Noyes) is a smug do-gooder, the polar opposite of the man who actually brought the young women here (writer Norman Cousins).

Dramatic license has also turned the real-life Japanese chaperon who watched over the maidens into a tense, embittered character (Darrell Kunitomi), who comes to hate Americans for what he calls "the superiority of pity." It's this image of vanquished and victor that propels the production and makes the play, under Andy Griggs' direction, a wickedly ironic commentary on Japanese-U.S. relations today.

Credulity is stretched by the romance between one of the women (the demure Catherine Dao) and a sweet but dim New York hotel doorman (the hyper Frank Simons). But the production regains its balance with two shattering scenes: a "This Is Your Life" TV show, featuring Eugene Rubenzer's ripe parody of host Ralph Edwards, and a gripping monologue by James Asher-Salt as a U.S. airman describing his gung-ho emotions navigating the Enola Gay over Hiroshima.

When the three veiled and kimono-clad actresses (representing the 25 real-life women) rematerialize into post-surgical cosmetic triumphs, their unthinking American benefactor heartily calls them "A-Bomb Beauties"--an insensitivity that mirrors the airman's.

An Open Festival event at 2330 Sawtelle Blvd., Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Sept. 16. $12-$15. (213) 478-0897.

'Antony & Me' a Slight, Sentimental Buddy Play

The New York street comedy "Antony & Me," a new work by Andrew Johns at Theatre 6470, is a buddy play built on unabashed sentiment.

The first act is tiresome and uneventful as bulky, rumpled streetwise Antony (Peter Spellos) struggles to lurch his diffident, dim friend Jim (Eric Kohner) into the real world. Mercifully, the second act, thanks to textured performances from the five cast members, salvages the show with a light, innocent boy-meets-girl tone that is endearing if not captivating.

The play is a slight, flabby work, but director Bradley Mott draws a nicely sustained performance from Kohner as the goofy, shy loner discovering not only the almanac but the girl of his dreams (Miki Kim's perky waitress).

Marcy K. Ross' brassy hooker and Ralph Monaco's( salty neighborhood dinerman lend flavor to the resourceful but skimpy park bench/lunch counter/bedroom set designed within obvious budget constraints by Jonathan Gordon.

At 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., Thursdays through Sundays, 8 p.m., through Aug. 25. $10. (213) 466-1767.

An Innovative Approach to Strindberg's 'Miss Julie'

Sometimes a classic play can deepen its impact on audiences with a radical approach.

Strindberg's "Miss Julie," a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre, has cast Jean the valet, the object of Miss Julie's lust, as a black man (Ron Canada). The change, in contemporary terms, accelerates the drama's sexual and class warfare without violating the text or its period (Sweden in the 1880s).

In fact, there are two blacks in this three-character erotic tragedy, and the surprise is the vital black scullery maid, normally a secondary character, played here by Tina Lifford, the strongest actor on stage. Unlike the mistress of the manor (the convincingly neurotic Amanda Hillwood), this kitchen minion, who has her own investment in the valet, really knows what she wants.

As for the black valet, Canada is a bit paunchy and long in the tooth to be the cock-o'-the-walk in Miss Julie's life. More than that, his swagger and self-confidence are overbaked.

Hillwood's desperate protagonist, her blond tresses fluttering, captures the carnal drive of a repressed woman raised to hate men while feasting on her lowly valet in the coppery light of the kitchen (a burnished, artful set designed by Robert W. Zentis).

In sum, this is a valuable addition to the "Julie" canon, translated by Jerry Turner and crisply directed by Libby Appel.

At 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m., through Aug. 26. $15-$18. (213) 477-2055.

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