Thanks to playwrights Steven G. Simon and Howard Teichman, this true story of Jews escaping the Holocaust has come to vivid life in FUGU. After a quarter of a century spent in research, writing, and revising, Simon and Teichman honed a piece of history into a theatrical gem. Presented by the West Coast Jewish Theatre, this “truth is stranger than fiction” tale has its world premiere in Los Angeles. Set in November 1941 - the beginning of World War II - FUGU is the story of fleeing Jews earmarked for death but rescued from the Nazis by Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who wrote visas for 6,000 Lithuanian Jews and transported them to Kobe, Japan. But what happened when the Nazis got wind of the deception? Thereby hangs this intriguing story.
Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Colonel Nohiro Yasue (Ryan Moriarty) is stationed in Kobe and in charge of the Jews who subsequently formed a thriving community in Japan. When Gestapo Colonel Josef Meisinger (David Preston) arrives with several bloodthirsty plans to eliminate “the Jewish problem,” Yasue devises a scheme to try to avert a war between Japan and the U.S. with the help of the Jewish community.
Believing that American President Roosevelt is Jewish, Yasue plans to send community leader Dr. Avram Kaufman (Warren Davis) to the U.S. as an emissary and liaison with American Jews. Dr. Kaufman is tasked with contacting his Jewish “buddies” in Washington, Wall Street, and Hollywood to rally support for continued peace between the two countries. Kaufman is in a dilemma. He doesn’t know anyone in the U.S., and he doesn’t think that he can fulfill the role which Yasue has cast upon him. The FUGU plan may be on shaky ground. Meanwhile, “The Butcher of Warsaw” has his own plans for the Jews in Kobe.
Into this maelstrom of intrigue enter Yasue’s aide-de-camp Setsuzo Kotsuji (Scot Keiji Takeda) and Kaufman’s pretty young daughter Sarah (Rose Moss). When the pair strike up a friendship which quickly progresses to a romance forbidden by both Japanese and Jewish custom, sparks fly in all directions. Even the comic Mrs. Dovitch (Bryna Weiss) cannot stop the cascading effects of this unlikely union.
Co-author Howard Teichman also serves as director and helms FUGU with a sure hand. The talented cast effectively brings history to the present. Kurtis Bedford’s set, Ellen Monocroussos’ lighting, Shon LeBlanc’s costumes, and choreography by Hai Cohen and Kaz Matamura enhance the goings-on with skill. This is a compelling play based on compelling real-life events. Although sometimes spotty in execution, FUGU is an entertaining study of real people in an unbelievable but real situation. By the way, to find out what FUGU means, you’ll just have to see the show.
FUGU runs through March 19, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Pico Playhouse is located at 10508 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064. Tickets are $40 with special rates for seniors and students. For information and reservations, call 323-821-2449 or go online.