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    A Girl of Sixteen

    Novel approach

    One of the city's most original theater companies turns Japanese novelist Yasunari Kawabata's "Beauty and Sadness" inside out, exposing different sides of the characters through constantly inventive theatrical ideas, in "A Girl of Sixteen."


    A white sheet rumpled on the dark ground, surrounded by more billowing white on all sides, begins to stir ever so slowly. A human form gradually unfolds, wide-eyed, seemingly naked, seemingly confused. Suddenly it opens its mouth in a silent scream and the lights go dark.

    Company: International WOW Company.
    Written and directed by: Aya Ogawa.
    Cast: Dario Tangelson, Deborah Wallace, Peter Lettre, Erika Hildebrandt, Drae Campbell, Magin Schantz, Saori Tsukuda, Karmenlara Brownson, Aaron Mostkoff Unger.
    Costumes by: Amanda Ford.
    Lighting by: Josh Fox, Jaki Levy.

    Related links: Official site
    Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center
    107 Suffolk St. north of Delancey
    Previews start: April 25, 2003
    April 30 - May 18, 2003

    The meaning of this opening image will not be clear until the very end of "A Girl of Sixteen," another very imaginative work of theater perpetrated by the International WOW Company, whose previous creations include "Hyperreal America" and "The Bomb."

    "A Girl of Sixteen" is a play about a novel about a novelist, created "in response to" the Japanese novel "Beauty and Sadness" by Yasunari Kawabata (also the author of "Snow Country"). It's about a writer whose only great work is an account of his affair with a teenage girl, which might seem scandalous but he considers it revelatory.

    A Girl of Sixteen  
    "I had a wife and son — whom I loved," the novelist, here known as Hugo Grey (Dario Tangelson), tells us. "And then I had the young girl, with whom I found out things about myself that I never, ever imagined."

    What's striking about his statement is that it's all about him — he reduces the young girl to a vehicle for him to learn about himself, never mind what the consequences were for her. He's ennobled, she's forgotten.

    This play follows the other lives haunted by long-ago events. The girl, Yuri Snow (Karmelara Brownson as a teenager, Erika Hildebrandt as an adult), has grown up to become a painter and a teacher at an art school for girls in the countryside. Having made her peace with her notorious affair and the baby she lost as a result — or perhaps just walled it off in her consciousness so she could get on with her life — she is surprised when Hugo Grey arrives at her school one day. And she is alarmed when one of her young protegees, a talented abstract painter named Noemi (Magin Schantz), becomes fixated on the long-past injustice — and on the author himself.

    What new generation of ecstasy, heartbreak and tragedy will grow out of the old, we can only wait and see. But the ties between past and present are ever-present on stage as in the characters' minds, brought alive by this company's ever-fertile theatrical imaginations.

      A Girl of Sixteen
    The ghosts of memories — of the characters' past selves, perhaps, or the common knowledge that all know but none speak — haunt each scene in the form of black-hooded actors. One attaches herself to the Grey family's coffee table as a permanent reminder of the husband's transgression.

    Costumes in elegant folds of blue, violet and gray, movement, images and some original performance ideas help build an impressionistic picture of who these people are and what's in their minds beyond what the dialogue tells us. Like previous International WOW productions, this one throws a lot of theatrical ideas at the audience — one I noticed several times was a way they have of producing a sudden cacophony of movement in many different parts of the stage at once, throwing you off your comfort zone as you try to take in everything that's going on.

    Writer-director Aya Ogawa — the company's assistant artistic director who had key roles in "Hyperreal America" and "The Bomb" — has interwoven often-poetic language with often-mesmerizing scenes that play upon the mind while you watch. My only reservation about the play is that the characters are a little bit ethereal and so much is communicated through mood that I didn't always feel on top of the story and where, concretely, it was going. But by the final few scenes it's clear that it has indeed been going somewhere. Lives and psyches are very much at stake. And a final speech — the one that revives the sheet-draped figure from the very first scene — lends new depth to the entire story that we've just seen.

    MAY 13, 2003

    Reader comments on A Girl of Sixteen:

  • bravo   from Dodd, May 18, 2003

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