Monday, January 20, 2014

Enjoy—CoHo Productions—NW Portland


The Underside of Society

This play is having its West Coast premiere here and is written by Toshiki Okada and translated by Aya Ogawa.  It is directed by Michael Griggs and is playing at their space at 2257 NW Raleigh St. through February 8th.  For further information go to www.cohoproductions.org or call 503-715-1114.

There seems to be a universal movement, especially in Japan where this story takes place, of young people choosing not to be ingrained and swallowed up by the corporate world.  Instead they take on minimal jobs and elect to be part-time or temp. employees, sometimes living on the street.  But, just because they exist in the underside of a city, doesn’t mean they don’t have thoughts, dreams and desires.  They may be hesitant, unsure of themselves and relatively poor but they seem to experience a freedom that those shackled to Big Brother businesses can only envy.

In the past ages they may have been called hippies or bohemians.  In today’s Japan these hyper-realists are referred to as Freeters or Millennials, in essence living off the scraps of others but able to enjoy the freedom it brings.  This story follows some of those 25-35 year-olds in Japan, attempting to understand and make sense of the larger world surrounding them and how they experience it.

I have to say the style of the play only suggests a type of story having to do with relationships, living conditions and dealing with the moment, instead of planning out their actions and lives for the future.  Also the dialogue is somewhat akin to David Mamet or Virginia Woolf.  It is spoken, as one might think random thoughts, a stream-of-consciousness aloud with all the hesitations, changing of subjects, unfiltered, inconclusiveness that one might have if they were simply thinking it.

And it is presented in a narrative, story-telling way, directly to the audience sometimes.  If you are expecting a summary of the story, it wouldn’t do justice to the production, as it is not realistic, or about facts but rather about feelings and thoughts.  It is of the moment, not of the place.

The style also suggests its Japanese influence by movement (coach/choreographer, Jim McGinn), like the Kabuki or Noh theatre.  It is often very erratic, stylized and hype-kinetic.  It is evident to express things that cannot be verbalized, since oral language seems to be lacking often in expressing feelings.  The computer age has also taken that lack of intimacy from us, too, exposing not the heart and soul of Man but rather the nuts and bolts.

And it should not be taken too literally, I believe, as sometimes a story, made up of two or three characters might, in actuality, simply be one person with the others representing multiple, contradictory  facets of their psyche.  Only my opinion, of course, but might be another layer to the tales.  The stories deal with depression, lack of direction, search for meaning, realities of existence, and the need for a secure relationship.  It may be, in part, looking through the wrong end of a telescope, to explore what others don’t see.

The actors are all exceptional at making sense out of the material, which, as mentioned is written in such a stylized form.  It must have been a difficult chore for the actors to remember such erratic dialogue.  I especially liked Anne Sorce and the way she used her body in her major scene.  And the director, Griggs, had his work cut out for him, in trying to piece the fragments all together and he’s done it well.  And Okada has captured the spirit of a restless age and given it substance.  Perhaps it can be said, the least we can hope for in such a social environment is, as one character near the end expresses, “the two of us together, forever.”  If we all can find that then, it’s a…beginning.

If you are coming expecting a traditional kind of show, this may not be your cup of tea.  But if you’re willing to expand the artistic horizons, then I would recommend this to you.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.