Strange daze

Happy Hour

By Kobo Abe
Directed by Takuro Arai
HIU Shudan
Midtown International Theater Festival
New 42nd St. Theatre
348 W. 42nd St. (279-4200)
Equity showcase (Festival closes Aug. 5; call for schedule)
Review by Andrés J. Wrath

Happy Hour as performed by HIU Shudan is a treat if the viewer is patient and willing to stay in tune with some of its confusing elements. Mostly interested in perception and dissolving Western convention, HIU Shudan deconstructs how we see a play and uses a self-reflexive style.

The evening opened with the director and a producer of HIU Shudan trying to solicit members of the audience to audition for their company. The brave audience members at the opening performance consisted of a very shy man who bolted out of the theatre, a man with a Taxi Driver T-shirt who did a hilarious monologue from an action adventure film, and yet another audience member who performed a splendid poem.

Next The Suitcase/Kaban by Kobo Abe was performed twice: once in Japanese, and the second time in English. This was a very difficult task for the audience to get through and required a lot of patience. Much of the wonder of the piece is getting the action through the body language of the actors while it is performed in a foreign language. Even so, the piece dragged on because too much visual information was conveyed to keep up with in another language, and after some 30 minutes it became tiring. Further, when it was again performed in English, its text seemed banal and the acting style forced.

Not to mention confusing: if a whole different story was conveyed in the second language, that would be one thing, but if the exact same story was less successful in the audience's native language, it seems more a case of a need for a better translator. Furthermore, changing one of the actors in the second go-round didn't help matters; it made the change more about having all the actors working than about a changed perception of the same material.

The third part consisted of all the elements of the initial opening told from another angle, with a reversal of the audience point of view. Here, the composition worked nicely and had more of a rationale behind it.

The acting by Shiro Watanabe and Eden Bull lent a dazzling naturalistic quality setting up the reality as well as the jokiness of the evening extremely well. Actors Yuzo Agawa, Shiro Watanabe, and Motoki Kabayashi lent a dynamic circus-like quality to their parts.

The set by Ryo Saski was a stunner: a black-and-white-checked backdrop with antique furniture in the foreground. The revolving lights by Minori Koike added much to the scene change and lent a dreamlike quality to the evening. The uncredited costumes didn't add or subtract from the piece, although the kimono worn by the silent wife played by Sharon Edrei was lovely.

 Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2001 Andrés J. Wrath