Posted on: Friday, October 3, 2003

Japanese drama baffling, chaotic

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Drama Critic

 •  'Moral'

Ernst Lab Theatre, University of Hawaii

8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow, and 2 p.m. Sunday.

$10 regular, $8 seniors, military, UH faculty/staff, non-UHM students, $3 UHM students with validated Fall 2003 UHM photo ID.

956-7655, or online.

"Moral", by Japanese playwright Kisaragi Koharu, opens the new season for the Ernst Lab Theatre at the University of Hawaii.

Colleen Lanki directs the play with a good feel for the effects that a highly ritualized and controlled society can have on people.

The production's strongest impact is visual, with dialogue translated by Lanki and Tsuneda Keiko adding cohesion, but no real substance, to what we see.

The visual drama starts off strong, swamps itself in repetition midway through the play's 90 minute single act, and ends with a puzzle failing to offer a strong conclusion.

We meet the large cast all at once, apparently at a train station or on a city street. Most are in western business attire, some in Japanese work clothes, but all are grimly intent on getting somewhere efficiently. Voices are a babble of repeated phrases. Nobody seems happy.

But the action freezes for a short vignette of two children dressed in white, blissfully playing with a balloon. The moment seems imaginary, because it quickly evaporates in favor of a regimented exercise class. The leader issues what becomes the play's guiding principal.

"If you don't pass your sh... on to others, they'll pass it on to you."

This grim assessment of the human condition in an industrialized society recalls for the director a subway scene of a mother drilling her 4-year-daughter on the way to a pre-school examination. This image is repeated in the play as a girl in a school uniform angrily slaps at a world globe and impassively watches as her elders march through a hive-like existence.

The central figures in the drama are a family with two young sons. Father (Brent Yoshikami) acts out the repetitive daily cycle of commuting to a job he doesn't fully understand, shipping a product he doesn't know to destinations he's ignorant of. It gives him both pleasure and pain, he reports.

Mother (Malia Bowlby) exists in a trance-like state, about to go mad but feeding treats to her sons as if they were baby birds. The boys (Jason Reynolds and Andrew Valentine) wear coats, ties and boxer shorts, and wear tags reading "Economics" and "Psychology."

While the chorus becomes mass consumers in department stores and restaurants, an exhausted Father only wants to eat sushi, predicting that he will die tomorrow. Mother and Grandmother argue. The boys fight.

When the chorus salutes with liquor bottles, proclaiming themselves to be alcoholics, we give up looking for a coherent plot among the repeating images.

As the story goes, an optimist would contend that this much manure must indicate the presence of a pony. But playwright Koharu has not written an optimistic message and the pony never appears. Just before the action recedes into the clamor with which it began, director Lanki brings back the balloon children, perhaps to re-emphasize their uncomplicated delight as a lost and never to be regained ideal.

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