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7 Apr 2010
Review by Tulis McCall

This is a strange and wonderful show that sneaks up on you. Toshiki Okada has written a play about nine people who work in a mana café: Kato, Kawakami, Ogawa, Mizuno, Shimizo, Takeuchi and hmmmmnnnn. See the thing is all the names start to flow over and around you and begin not to matter very much. This is not a play about specifics as much as it is a play about the blend of us.

A mana café is a video store where you can rent a cubicle by the hour and eat, sleep, bath, watch videos or read comics. You pay at the end of your session for the services you use. It's all about the honor system. Everything is about the honor system we soon find out. We are in Shinjuku - the epicenter of Tokyo.

This excellent cast, listed as numbers in the program and only one of whom appears to be Asian, takes on the difficult task of standing on an empty set and talking. Dan Rothernberg's direction is everywhere and nowhere. He and the cast have created a safety zone that is minimalistic and provocative. The actors talk to us; they talk to each other. They speak of themselves in the third person, then transition into the first person. They become one another. A woman begins a story about her boyfriend and slides into his character without blinking twice while someone else becomes her. The boyfriend enters and becomes someone in the story he was telling his girlfriend. No one is in one dimension for very long, but the story continues on.

There is a delicacy and caring in this writing. While the premise is innovative, Okada's text, translated by Aya Ogawa, builds its own framework with each line. The actors are deliberated and thoughtful. No one rushes because the work is too intricate. No one gets bogged down by the work because the stories are fluid. The subconscious takes its place at the table with the conscious, the train of thought, and the breath that carries sound or silence. There is movement in silence and stillness in words.

Through this extraordinary tapestry we discover these 9 people. They are the classic remarkable/unremarkable people. They are us. Relationships consume them. Who is doing what with whom and why? And of course there is the self to self connection that is always in the room. These are people who live dense lives. They are piled on top of one another in cubicles, trains, apartments. There is no quiet empty street. There is only the place of faces. To exist in this ant farm, one must move with internal grace and external efficiency. This produces a tension because no one is ever at rest, and it produces a desire for partnership because no one is ever alone. They witness and watch while they live and think and hope. Multitasking Tokyo-style.

I live in New York. I forget there is world out there where it is not loud and loopy. This play pulled me into another way of existing that was compelling and strange at the same time. I was an outsider who was made to feel like an insider until the bell rang and it was time to go home.

Extraordinary, really.

(Tulis McCall)

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