Akuma-shin, by Kenley Smith, is a most unusual theatrical endeavor and more than a little difficult to describe. The title is most assuredly Japanese and it may be more familiar to gamers as “Shin Akuma,” a monstrous character from the Street Fighter series whose name translates as “True Great Demon”, “True Great Devil” or “True Great Ogre.” Akuma-shin jumps back and forth over time from 1956 to 1976. A prologue presents Billy Childers (Eddie Goines), an elderly black man with hooks for hands reminiscing about an event that occurred in post-war Tokyo, 1956, when a saurian force of nature three hundred feet tall emerged from the sea and destroyed the city with uncountable people dead. Reminiscent of the Harry Potter series with a villain who may not be named, this character remains nameless, but moviegoers certainly can conjure up the moniker. Mr. Childers tells of how he witnessed the event as a radio engineer in a tall building in Tokyo, along with broadcaster Mason Burr (Tony DeCarlo) and Japanese technician George Serizawa (Reuben Uy).
The scene shifts to a PBS TV studio 1976 and Nancy Dickerson (Stasha Surdyke) is holding a round table discussion of those events of two decades in the past. On the panel are Mason Burr, who was in Tokyo when the event occurred and now sits semi-paralyzed in a wheel chair, Truman Capote (Amir Levi), Norman Mailer (Paul Parducci), William F. Buckley (David Wilcox), and Dr. Joyce Brothers (Libby Baker). Capote is twisted up in his chair squeaking out words with sardonic pique. Norman Mailer hunches over swigging from a flask and restless for the conversation to come around to his book. William F. Buckley slouches in his chair his nose pointed to the grid as he drawls out venom with his Boston Brahmin accent. Only Joyce Brothers seems fully human and uncaricatured. These scenes are played for laughs, of which there were plenty to be heard rolling in from the friendly opening night crowd.
Joe Jordan’s set design features two walls angling towards upstage with huge shoji screens, which are rolled off by an excellent stage hand to reveal platforms that represent different locations in the past. In downtown Tokyo, Mason Burr is desperate to get on the air and tell the world about the event, a live transmission of disaster being the holy grail of broadcasters. Childers comes nearly to blows with the Japanese technician because his knowledge of broadcast equipment is tubes and Serizawa is up on the new transistor technology. A silly argument when the world is about to explode.
Other scenes unfold as the play goes back and forth from the television studio to the past. A sensei (Mr. Uy) and his student, Gojira (Victor Chi), view the event from a different perspective. In a changed world, history forks off into a future quite different from our own in which Lee Harvey Oswald (Adam Burch) becomes a politician, and nuclear-armed warrior Curtis Lemay flies off into his destiny.
A coda features Emiko Ogata (Corinne Chooey) in a wistful denouement that seeks to clear away the dust and smoke from the past.
The production benefits from the excellent stagecraft of the artistic staff with costumes by Jennifer Christina DeRosa, sound design by Jaime Robledo, lighting design by Matt Richter, properties design by Bo Powell, video by Emily Bolka, video graphics by Curt Bonnem, video editing and programming by Allison Faith Sulock, and fight choreography by Mike Mahaffey. Michael Teoli composed the music for Akuma-shin.
While there is much to admire in the show, Akuma-shin seems like an extended series of Saturday Night Live skits, some of which work and some don’t. It is hard to know quite what to make of it. I left the theatre bemused.
Program notes by playwright Kenley Smith and director Scott Leggett would like an audience to see a situational link to our current political situation. I guess we might see that monster-induced chaos that radically alters the trajectory of the future has relevance. Hmmm…okay.
Produced by Brian W. Wallis, Akuma-shin is performed Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm, and runs through April 28 at Sacred Fools’ Broadwater Main Stage, 1076 Lillian Way in Los Angeles. And don’t forget…at Sacred Fools Theater Company, no patron will pay more than $15 for a Sacred Fools show!