Beauty is at the heart of Velina Hasu Houston’s new play Calling Aphrodite, 
currently having its world premiere production at Long Beach’s International 
City Theatre.  Beauty as something divine, beauty as a thing to be envied, 
beauty as something destroyed by war, beauty as a sign of hope.

Keiko and Shizuka are sisters in Hiroshima in 1945.  Keiko is the beautiful one, off 
to Nagoya to care for her wounded lover Sato, “the one beautiful thing left” in 
this country made ugly by war. Shizuka, her jealous sister, prevents her from 
leaving Hiroshima, and the bomb falls. Ten years later, an American doctor 
arrives in Japan as part of the “Hiroshima Maidens” project, offering surgery in 
America as hope to 25 young Japanese women burdened by scars on their 
faces and hands bent into claws. Among them, only Keiko, whose love for the 
West has turned to hate and whose faith in Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty 
has been shattered, refuses to go.

This is the story of Calling Aphrodite, now being given exquisite Class A 
treatment in a fine production directed with grace and sensitivity by Shashin 
Desai. Working with playwright Houston, a superb cast, and an extraordinary 
design team, Desai’s production is one of ICT’s best.

As Keiko, Kim Hoy (so wonderful in East West Players Little Shop of Horrors a few 
years back) is all delicacy and femininity until her facial and body scars sour her 
to life. Hoy’s transition from a young girl for whom beauty is a way of being to 
embittered bomb victim is heart-wrenching. “Why all these surgeries to make it 
look as if the bomb never fell?” she cries out to the doctor who has come with 
the best of intentions.

Vivian Bang does equally good work as Keiko’s envious sister, whose sarcastic 
wisecracks end when her beautiful sister is made ugly by the bomb. 
Shakespeare vet Barry Lynch is Dr. Everett, the plastic surgeon who seeks an 
end to his own war damage and bitterness by performing acts of compassion. 
It is a rich and moving performance. Blake Kushi does very good work as his 
Japanese counterpart, Dr. Matsubayashi.

Finally there is Brenda Hattingh as the goddess Aphrodite, or as the 
“Aphrodite” that Keiko imagines and talks with in her mind.  Speaking in a high 
pitched melodious voice (the way Keiko would hear her I suppose), the lovely 
Hattingh dispenses words of wisdom, serving as a kind of guardian angel 
throughout the play and as a symbol of what Keiko has lost.  “Why didn’t you 
save me from the American bomb,” Keiko cries out at one moment.

As fine as are Houston’s writing, Desai’s direction, and the cast’s performances, 
the extraordinary work of ICT’s design team makes an equally strong 
impression.  Set designer Don Llewellyn has fashioned an exquisite backdrop of 
shimmering drapes, which seem to have a life of their own as lit by the brilliant 
Jeremy Pivnick.  Kim DeShazo’s Japanese costumes are equally fine. Best of all 
is the amazing sound design of Glen A. Dunzweiler, a new name for me, but 
one I’ll be remembering. Taiko drums, sirens, a flute, birds, a lute, circling 
bombers, falling bombs, and wailing grief-stricken voices surround the 
audience, adding greatly to the play’s impact. Award worthy work.

Ultimately, Calling Aphrodite is that best of historical plays, one which 
educates, illuminates, and moves…deeply. Kudos to all involved in this 
gorgeous production.

International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach.

–Steven Stanley 
September 1, 2007

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