COURTESY OF ANDREW SHIMABUKU|
Clockwise from top left, Andrew Valentine, Jason Reynolds, Brent Yoshikami and Malia Bowlby star in "Moral," playing through the weekend at Ernst Lab Theatre.
still manage to entertain
The years of Japan's baburu jidai ("Bubble Era") must have been a living hell for the Japanese salary man struggling to produce at work and resist the temptations of consumerism in 1980s. The University of Hawaii at Manoa production of "Moral," written by Japanese playwright Kisaragi Koharu, and translated by Tsuneda Keiko and Colleen Lanki, offers a stark and often enigmatic look back at the desperate efforts of one such sarariman to cope with the pressures of living in Tokyo at that time.
Lanki, who is also directing "Moral" at Ernst Lab Theatre in partial fulfillment of requirements for an MFA degree in Asian Performance, has created a theater experience that is challenging but well worth experiencing.
Presented at Ernst Lab Theatre
When: 8 p.m. today through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $10 general; $8 for seniors, military, UH faculty and staff, and non-UH students; $3 for UH students with fall 2003 ID.
Father (Brent Yoshikami) is a mid-level executive whose job consists of placing orders for items shipped to "some town in some country quite unfamiliar to me" -- possibly the Republic of Karikatari. He hears voices, believes he is responsible for the deaths of "maybe thousands or even millions" of people, and craves inarizushi (a vegetarian "comfort food").
Mother (Malia Bowlby) has an adversarial relationship with her mother-in-law, Grandmother (Tracyn Hagos), and responds to daily pressures by sneaking off to a corner liquor store for a bottle of shochu (a vodka-like beverage), and possibly a dalliance with the owner (Edgar M. Ramos).
Mother and Father have two sons, Economics (Jason J.W. Reynolds) and Psychology (Andrew Valentine). The boys have their own issues to work through.
Other notable characters include Father's formidable boss (Konta Runa), a globe-carrying student (Peilin Liang), and two low-level workers with a penchant for slap-stick whose names are Aada (Paul Takeji Sakuma) and Koda (Nelson Pires).
A slightly more sophisticated style of comedy is provided by a pair of stylish Shibuya Girls (Lei Sadakari and Lani Hansen) who entertain in character before the show starts, make numerous appearances during the performance, and who also function as koken, or "invisible" stage hands.
"Moral" is presented without intermission, and anyone who is neither fluent in Japanese nor contemporary Japanese social mores will quickly get a sense of what it is like to be a gaijin (non-Japanese person) in Japan. A poster above the water fountain at the theater entrance explains the significance of the set design and provides translations of some of the Japanese-language signs. It is well worth reading before entering the theater.
However, even with that knowledge, "Moral" can be a long 90 minutes for people who don't remember Morning Musume, or who aren't aware that some of the ensemble's nonsensical chanting consists of real Japanese words. All but two of the cast members also perform as part of the ensemble, and that, too, leaves much of the action unclear.
>> Is Father talking about inarizushi with his secretary or a psychiatrist? Answer: Secretary (Kim Eunsook).
Yoshikami turns in another solid performance as the beleaguered sarariman and shades the character in ever darker hues. Hagos delivers a compelling portrayal of a bitter woman who has reason to distrust her daughter-in-law and is suspicious of her grandsons. Sadakari and Hansen are instant hits as the comical Shibuya girls.
>> Are scenes in which Father orders his subordinates to "kill, kill, kill", soldiers invade a village, and Economics and Psychology recall seeing soldiers killing women and children references to Japanese war crimes before and during World War II? Answer: Probably.
>> Is Mother's hostile relationship with her mother-in-law an anomaly? Answer: No, but modern Japanese women are less likely to put up with such abuse.
Slapstick humor transcends language and culture, and that makes Sakuma and Pires guaranteed crowd-pleasers despite the fact that their scene is performed in Japanese.
The staging set and the costumes contain details more subtle than most gaijin can expect to comprehend during the performance, but Lanki's "Moral" is all the more noteworthy for that. Anyone with an interest in Japanese culture or unconventional theater should be sure to catch one of the three remaining performances.