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Fugu



 
Fugu is a fascinating play that merges all my interests in history in a surprising and little-known story of the  world’s ever-changing alliances running up to World War II.  Written by Steven G. Simon and Howard Teichman who also directs, this dramatization brings to life a book The Fugu Plan, by Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, with Mary Schwartz, entitled.

As the Japanese military read events unfolding in Germany, they believed the propaganda that all Jews were fabulously wealthy and could provide Japan with enough cash to launch a wider war into Southeast Asia.  Even though it was dangerous to toy with the German alliance made by Japan’s diplomats, the military imagined that rescuing Jews from Nazis would garner their favor and open the purses of Jews around the world.

The performance begins with a graceful Japanese dance (performed by Kaz Matamura, who also plays Kiori) augmented with Chasidic dancer, Matt Gottlieb (also Max Kaminsky). Set against shoji screens, The dances set the scene and historic newsreels lend authenticity to the play about to unfold.

Fugu delivers a generous dollop of tensions that the secret negotiations between the Japanese colonel, Nohiro Yasue (played by Ryan Moriarty) and Dr. Avram Kaufman (Warren Davis).  Scott Keiji Takeda plays Setsuzo Kotsuji, a young man who spent some time on a Kabbutz in Israel, speaks Hebrew and translates between the officers and the pilgrims. He falls for Sarah Kaufman (Rosie Moss), who in turn feels emboldened, thus almost derailing the proceedings.  In the mix, we find outspoken Mrs. Dovitch (Bryna Weiss) and an appeasing Rabbi Shlomo Shapira (Peter Altschuler, along with hot headed Captain Yosuke Matsuoka. It seems that careful plans for resettlement may come to fruition until the menacing Colonel Josef Meisinger (David Preston) arrives on the scene.

Stylishly realized by Teichman and his designers, tranquil screens, designed by Kurtis Bedford, fold and unfold with ingenious simplicity to enable locations as diverse as a synagogue or a conference room. Costuming by Shon Leblanc evokes the time and place and styles of a bygone era, while lighting comes from Ellen Monocroussos.

With all the pieces falling firmly in place, this little-known incident is suspenseful until the very end.
PHOTO:  Setsuzo Kotsuji (Scott Keiji Takeda) and Sarah Kaufman (Rosie Moss) begin an unlikely romance in Fugu, at West Coast Jewish Theatre.

West Coast Jewish Theatre presents Fugu Friday and Saturday at 8:00 PM, and Sunday at 3:00 PM through March 19, 2017, at 10508 Pico Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90064. For reservations call (323) 821-2449 or go online to www.wjt.tix.com.