FUGU by Carol Kaufman Segal
Fugu is a Japanese word for blowfish What it has to do with this play will be told in this review of the captivating story based on true events that took place in Japan prior to the United States’ involvement in World War II. Written by Steven G. Simon and Howard Teichman, this world premiere production is being presented by the West Coast Jewish Theatre at the Pico Playhouse in West Los Angeles.
The time is November, 1941. While it was no longer safe for Jews to live in countries taken over by Germany, Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara gave visas to 6,000 Lithuanian Jews and relocated them in Kobe, Japan. Colonel Nohiro Yasue (Ryan Moriarty), Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs stationed in Kobe, was put in charge of the Jews who settled in and established a community there.
Yasue is of the belief that President Roosevelt is Jewish, and he devises a plan to avert a war between Japan and the United States with the help of some of the leaders of the Jewish community. The secret name of his plan is Fugu! He invites Dr. Avram Kaufman (Warren Davis), his daughter Sarah (Rosie Moss), and Rabbi Shlomo Shapira (Peter Altshuler) to dinner, along with his Aide, Setsuzo Kotsuji (Scott Keiji Takeda) and Captain Yosuke Matsuoka (Marcel Licera) in order to reveal his plan.
Yasue’s plan entails sending Dr, Kaufman to America to make contact with all of his “Jewish friends” in Hollywood, Washington, and Wall Street to persuade them to support peace between the two countries. Dr. Kaufman is aghast at the proposal and tries to explain to Yasue that he knows no one, nor has he any clout with anyone in the United States.
Germany becomes aware of the escape of the Jews to Japan, and sends Gestapo’s Colonel Joseph Meisinger (David Preston), a,k,a, The Butcher of Warsaw, to make certain that none of them escape alive. He reminds Yasue of Japan’s treaty with Germany and Italy and demands that he follow his orders. But Yasue has sworn to protect the Jews, and as a man of honor, he refuses, even if it means his death,
More complications arise when Yasue’s handsome young Aide and Dr. Kaufman’s beautiful daughter fall in love. Customs from both sides forbid such a union. However, Mrs. Dovitch (Bryna Weiss) tries to intervene. She is the comic relief in this often tense drama.
When the play first begins, it opens with a Japanese Dancer, Kiori (Kaz Matamura) and Chasidic Dancer, Max Kaminsky (Matt Gottlieb). It ends with their returning, followed by each of the characters coming on stage to reveal what befell them, thus giving closure to the plot.
I cannot express enough what a marvelous production this is due to a wonderfully written play about an extremely interesting happening in our history, an exceptionally outstanding cast, and superb direction by Howard Teichman (who is also the Artistic Director and Producing Manager of the West Coast Jewish Theatre).
Fugu plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 PM, through March 19. The Pico Playhouse is located at 10508 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Reservations are available by calling (323) 821-2449. Online tickets are available at www.wcjt.org.