Susan Hyon and Angela Lin
in Crane Story
(© Erik Pearson)
Susan Hyon and Angela Lin
in Crane Story
(© Erik Pearson)
A young Japanese-American woman attempts to put her ghosts to rest -- literally -- in Jen Silverman's new play, Crane Story, presented by The Playwrights Realm at the Cherry Lane Theatre. The production contains a number of lyrical passages and striking images that captivate, even if the pacing is sometimes a bit sluggish.

As the play begins, Cassis (Angela Lin) has arrived in Japan seeking answers about her brother's suicide a year prior. She turns to family friend Ishida (Louis Ozawa Changchien), who is initially unwelcoming, but soon enough is helping to guide her journey, as they both want the ghost of her brother Junpei (Jake Manabat) to find peace.

Since the characters so readily accept the existence of ghosts -- including one of a drowned man (puppeteered by David Shih) that hangs around outside of Ishida's home -- the audience quickly learns to take them as a matter of course, as well. This also applies to a mythical Crane (Christine Toy Johnson), who serves as a kind of narrator, and a librarian from the land of the dead known as Skell (a fantastical creation from Puppet Kitchen that several actors manipulate, but which is primarily voiced by Susan Hyon) whom Cassis angers.

Silverman's imaginative script is suffused with both beauty and sadness, as the various characters attempt to come to terms with their place in the world. This includes musician Theo (Barret O'Brien), who was the last person to speak to Junpei, and finds himself haunted by his spirit. We never really get a clear picture of the reasons for Junpei's despair, but loneliness and displacement become recurring themes within the play.

The show's title references the legend of a crane who became a woman to marry the man she loved, but fled from him once he discovered her true form. While there are a few points in which the Crane's story intersect with that of Cassis, their narrative strands are unfortunately not as intertwined as it feels that they should be. In particular, there is a point when Skell enlists Crane's help in getting revenge against Cassis, but nothing really comes of this agreement.

Lin does a fine job in conveying Cassis' conflicted emotions, as well as her drive to succeed in her chosen task. Changchien nicely underplays his role, suggesting hidden depths for Ishida that are only partially revealed over the course of the play. Manabat plays a little too broadly when embodying a 13-year-old version of Junpei, but evokes a potent sensuality in his ghost's interactions with Theo.

The show runs a little over two hours, and could stand to be tightened or even trimmed a bit. Additionally, director Katherine Kovner and movement designers Miki Orihara and Masumi Kishimoto occasionally seem to be incorporating stylized movements for their own sake, rather than serving any kind of dramatic purpose.

Still, the puppetry work is outstanding, and other moments -- such as one in which a bare-chested Theo stands in the rain as markings are washed off of his body -- are so beautifully done that it makes it easy to forgive any minor missteps that the production might make.