Sadako Saski, the subject of Lexington Children's Theatre's latest production, A Thousand Cranes, was only two years old when the bombs dropped on her hometown of Hiroshima.
Ten years after miraculously surviving, Saski is an athletic twelve-year-old girl who falls down while practicing for a running competition.
She doesn't know why.
She is diagnosed with "radiation sickness," a post World War II euphemism for leukemia, the cases of which skyrocketed in Japan after bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
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Adapted by Kathryn Schultz Miller based on the book by Eleanor Coerr, the play chronicles how Saski copes with her illness and impending death and is the most recent example of LCT's willingness to embrace challenging material.
LCT's seasons are filled with a diverse array of shows, from fairy tales to musical comedies to fables, and part of that diversity is the inclusion of stories that do not sugarcoat humanity's darkest moments.
The theater has previously tackled issues like slavery, the Holocaust, child abuse, poverty and war. LCT artistic director Vivian Snipes says that it is important to show young people examples of characters facing adversity, because life is full of difficult challenges.
"Theater is a reflection of life around us," says Snipes. "It should open our eyes to see the world around us in new ways. To me and to the organization as a whole, it means you cannot only show the happy and bright moment all of the time, because life, unfortunately, is not that.
"Hopefully in seeing the struggles of a character, whether it's in a Holocaust play or a quest/journey play, we see ourselves working through the struggles, facing them and knowing that it is viable to come out the other side a new human being, not necessarily a joyful human being, but a changed for the better human being," says Snipes.
The show's director, Octavia Biggs, spends a lot of time traveling to area schools that are part of LCT's touring program, which has already performed several traveling productions of A Thousand Cranes this year.
"I like to talk to the students about the shows and decisions I've made," says Biggs.
Recently when talking about A Thousand Cranes to a group of third graders, a boy raised his hand and asked, "Why would somebody drop a bomb on a village like that?"
Biggs avoided a blow-by-blow historical account in her response and focused instead on an age-appropriate way of thinking about the concept as a whole, with an emphasis on empathy and peace.
"It's important to understand that we live in a world that has wars going on and we try to have an understanding of why people do what they do," says Biggs, who says that the show's bigger message is a celebration of life and peace.
"I think it's a great example of the importance of trying to live in a world filled with peace, especially when there's so much ugliness that goes on," says Biggs.
Biggs says she hopes young audiences can glean some lessons from the play that they can apply in their own lives, such as refraining from retaliation when someone angers or hurts them.
"It's important to not always retaliate when something bad happens," Biggs says. "That's your instinct — that you want to hurt somebody else because they've hurt you, but I like to think there are alternative ways to deal with those situations."
Another lesson of the play is the value of teamwork, togetherness and solidarity. When Sadako is ill, she folds hundreds of origami cranes, hoping to reach a thousand, which tradition says would allow her to have a wish to be healthy again granted.
Sadly, Sadako does not finish making them before she passes away. After her death, her friends fold 356 cranes to reach one thousand.
"I think that is such a great part of the story for young people who are watching the show, to experience that camaraderie with their classmates," says Biggs. "There's such beauty and thought that can come from young people when they're experiencing devastation and grief."