ASTRO BOY & THE GOD OF COMICS Company One’s latest production- is fast and fun, but also deeply, darkly moving, resonating far beyond the thin black comic book lines materializing before us onstage. Leave it to this cutting edge company to produce the New England premiere of playwright/director Natsu Onoda Power’s extraordinary work incorporating actors, video projections and onstage drawing! The result is a “tragi-comic strip” that will leave you wide-eyed and shaken.
ASTRO BOY is an iconic Japanese comic book character created by Osamu Tezuka which debuted in postwar Japan in 1951. ASTRO BOY –called “Mighty Atom” in Japan — is a round-eyed, sweet-faced robot with “Felix the Cat”-like ears, who uses his superpowers to help humans and to make peace. Here, his adventures unfold onstage in 11 episodes in reverse chronological order with an animated, multi-talented real life ensemble who draw with markers and charcoal onstage, and interact with layers of projections, all of it running with precision timing and radiating homemade charm.
As the story flips back in time, we come to understand that ASTRO BOY’s story is sad, scary, and interlaced with Tezuka’s own past as a survivor of the atomic bombs dropped on his country, and his brutal experiences as a young teen during WWII. It seems clear that ASTRO BOY sprang not only from Tezuka’s love of “Manga”– Japanese comics — but also from the urge to transform his culture’s and his own dark history into a light and life-changing future. In ASTRO BOY Tezuka created an atomic-powered, fictional, future being (Here the year is 2014 and Astro Boy has an IQ of 300.) who only uses that power for good.
The moment in the show where the ravages of a destructive past become clear, through some extraordinarily evocative, troubling images taking shape before our very eyes– had me dropping my jaw in slow-motion. The content also resonates with themes of free will and social injustice– what rights does a robot have, and by extension, any group marginalized by race, color, creed, chromosomes?! Onoda Power who developed the work over the last year in the BCA’s XX Playlab, a program dedicated to support the work of female playwrights– calls ASTRO BOY “not only a superhero cartoon,” but also “a social issue cartoon.”
The material is rich indeed, but so sure-handed is its creator/director, that the complexity of tone and story is subsumed into Tezuka’s own larger vision, where low tech meets high: Tezuka draws his way into a future where science and humanity peacefully co-exist. Similarly, in ASTRO BOY AND THE GOD OF COMICS, Onoda Power uses her theatrical superpowers to produce a wondrous amalgamation of technique and content which find vivid, playful and shockingly potent expression onstage. Don’t miss this: through August 16 at the BCA’s Plaza Theatre.