The impressively talented Ernest Abuba directed two short plays about homeless outcasts. Despite being overwritten, they were artistic pluses.
The first play discovers a homeless woman (played by Dawn Akemi Saito, who also wrote the piece) at the end of a long corridor (cleverly created by David Herrigel's lighting) appearing before a futuristic, unseen inquisitor (Mr. Abuba), who promises a better bar-code reading if she will reveal the names of renegade renters for whom she is a key-runner.
Wearing a utilitarian costume (created by Eva Mantell), and run up and down her frightful city from 30 levels underground, the woman is tortured to a brightly musicalized, sometimes assaultive, score composed by MoHo MemO. She tells disconnected stories about living in an overpopulated world like the one predicted for places like Tokyo, where even today rooms like dog kennels are occupied by human beings.
Ms. Saito is a talented mime and an interesting story teller. her work borrows from Buddhism and Japanese art forms, as when she twirls her braided hair about like a kabuki lion.
The title of the second play gives away the story of two down-and-outers vying over a street corner while getting high on Listerine.
There are no winners in this slovenly tale of an older man whose main joy in life is wallowing in filth, and a younger lad who has serious social problems relating to the world. Like the earlier Ms. Saito, the young man has a bag of air he constantly repairs to. But rather than finding oxygen inside, he is actually smelling the scent of his long-lost father. That clue suffices to tell where the play is headed. Once it realizes its Dickensian destiny, the results are less emotionally satisfying than might be wished.
Mario Mendoza as the elder beggar gave an impressive performance. Looking and sounding like Beau Bridges's thin twin, he found glory in a whiskey bottle and cursed the rain like Lear because it washes off the dirt. But the play went on too long, giving Mr. Mendoza too many monologues to repeat similar actions again and again.
Zar Acayan, on the other hand, who played the younger crazy, was in too short supply. He never failed to find new, interesting, and often very funny tics to animate his character with variety and charm. Wearing what can only be described as a newspaper suit, Acayan alternated at breathtaking speed between such conflicting emotions as courage and fear.
Although the plots Abuba worked with were weak, and there were no memorable lines, the director constantly surprised the audience with clever and comic touches. But the torture in the first play and the filth of the second, although credible from a literary point of view, were antiseptic on the stage. Length exacerbated the fault. The director should edit more ruthlessly.
Copyright 1996 Marshall Yaeger
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