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Tainted-blood scandal of ‘80s Japan brought to life on the L.A. stage

"Blood" is writer-director Robert Allan Ackerman's ambitious, sometimes surreal mix of Eastern theater traditions and Western pop culture references now playing at the Complex in Hollywood.

“Blood” is writer-director Robert Allan Ackerman’s ambitious, sometimes surreal mix of Eastern theater traditions and Western pop culture references now playing at the Complex in Hollywood.

(Ed Kreiger)

“Blood” writer-director Robert Allan Ackerman applies a dazzling array of theatrical techniques to his ambitious account of the Japanese tainted-blood scandal of the 1980s.

Designated “a political thriller with music,” the narrative concerns how nearly 2,000 people, mostly hemophiliacs, died of AIDS after companies knowingly sold contaminated blood. The covert investigation of the medical industry, drug industry and government officials responsible comprises Act 1, followed by the decade-long trial, complicated by plaintiffs’ reluctance to go public, and its aftermath.

Ackerman mixes Asian and Western elements including KISS makeup, rap music, Gilbert & Sullivan riffs, drawing variously from noh, kyogen, bunraku and kabuki theater traditions. The director steers his admirable forces from the Garage actors workshop in a formidable display of small-theater invention.

In tandem with an imposing design team -- Hana S. Kim’s projections, Donny Jackson’s lighting and Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s sound are particularly invaluable -- Ackerman uses every inch of the tiny Complex space. His large, committed cast, most in multiple roles, gives itself to the myriad challenges, from Brechtian outsize to postmodern naturalism, even if authenticity sometimes impedes articulation.

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Alexa Hamilton’s bereaved American reporter, Sohee Park’s Japanese Korean lawyer, Toshi Toda’s medical heavy and Takaaki Hirakawa’s principal singer are the poles of storytelling, but everyone goes for it, with Miho Ando quietly indelible as the apology-seeking child who emerges as the saga’s hero.

However, while the essentials of situation and narrative are in place, Ackerman’s staging overshadows his fantasia-like script, its 60 scenes and constant tonal zigzags working against consistent emotional involvement. More human interchange and less surreal comment seem advisable.

Still, “Blood” is more than promising. It would be a natural fit at East West Players or the Kirk Douglas. Adventurous theatergoers should catch it, a noteworthy document of considerable significance.

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“Blood”

Where: The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 17.

Info: (323) 960-7745 or www.plays411.com/blood

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Running time: 2 hours

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Follow The Times’ arts team @culturemonster.


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