The Garage is one of the newest theater companies in Los Angeles, and they’ve taken on a particularly weighty subject for their debut production.
“Blood,” now running weekends and extended through April 17, is based on the true-life “Japanese tainted blood scandal” of the early 1980s, in which nearly 2,000 people, most of them hemophiliacs, died of AIDS after U.S. companies knowingly sold contaminated blood to Japan. This practice saw pharmaceutical companies continue to distribute non-heat-treated blood products, despite the existence of heat treatments proven to prevent the spread of infection.
The scandal rocked Japan, triggered public outrage, and resulted in charges being filed against high-ranking officials in the Ministry of Health and Welfare, executives of the manufacturing company involved and a leading doctor in the field of hemophilia.
It wasn’t until February 2000 that three former pharmaceutical executives were sentenced to prison for their part in the matter. Executives of the manufacturing company and the doctor were also charged with involuntary manslaughter.
“The subject matter is quite dark, but in the end, it’s a very touching story,” said cast member Saki Miata, who portrays the mother of a whistleblower who initially brought the scandal to light.
“This story isn’t just about Japan, or things Japanese,” Miata said. “It’s a universal theme about courage, about people standing up for what they know is right. It will make you laugh, it will make you angry, sad, and ultimately, you will learn about what real courage is.”
Combining music and drama, “Blood” is written by Robert Allan Ackerman, an Obie and New York Outer Critics Circle Award winner and DGA Award, two-time Golden Globe and five-time Emmy Award nominee whose numerous credits include the Tony-nominated Broadway production of Martin Sherman’s “Bent” starring Richard Gere, “Slab Boys” with Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Val Kilmer, and Oscar Wilde’s “Salome” starring Al Pacino.
Ackerman was conducting a workshop for the actors of the newly formed Garage company when he suggested they elevate their craft by taking on a full-scale production.
The company agreed, and when they learned of the director’s script for “Blood” – originally written to be a teleplay for Japanese TV – they jumped at the opportunity.
“He wrote it quite a long time ago, and had always hoped to get it produced,” Miata explained. “So he rewrote it for the stage.”
The real-life victim, Ryuhei Kawada, was then was a young boy who broke the silence, although even he did not publicly reveal his name for another 10 years. During the trial, the plaintiffs testified from behind black curtains to conceal their identities and shield them from public dishonor.
“One of the reasons this case took so long to unfold is that none of the victims or their families were willing to come forward,” explained Ackerman, who lived and worked in Tokyo for nearly two decades. “Being polite, soft-spoken and deferential to authority is ingrained in the culture. To be sick with AIDS was a source of great shame.”
Kawada has survived the illness, and currently is a member of the Japanese Parliament.
“In 1995, at the age of 19, I revealed my real name as a victim of AIDS-tainted blood product, in order to fully fight against the government and the pharmaceutical company
in the trial, wishing to never have such a disaster repeated ever again,” Kawada commented. “Today, more than 20 years later and across the ocean in the United States, this stage play is created based on that incident – I am more than thrilled.”
The cast of “Blood” includes Alexa Hamilton as the American reporter investigating the scandal, along with Garage founder Sohee Park, Takuma Anzai, Kazumi Aihara, Miho Ando, Takaaki Hirakawa, Alexa Hamilton, Michael Joseph, Andrew Nakajima, Mika Santoh and Toshi Toda.
Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with a 3 p.m. staging on Sundays, at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. Tickets are $25-$30.
For information, call (323) 960-7745 or visit www.plays411.com/blood.