ENJOY at 59E59

For those of you who missed Japan’s Chelftisch Theater Company when they were at the Japan Society in February 2009, now is a great chance to check out the work of Toshiki Okada- one of Japan’s hippest and hottest playwrights. The Play Co.’s presentation of Okada’s ENJOY, currently playing at 59E59, is an excellent interpretation of his work, with translator Aya Ogawa and director Dan Rothenberg (Pig Iron) cleaving closely to Okada’s style and sense of humor.

ENJOY tells the story of several co-workers at a Japanese Comic Book Cafe – they are divided into two groups, the ones that have reached thirty years old and those that are in their twenties. The stories intertwine as they go through break-ups and hook-ups, twentysomething exuberance vs. thirtysomething angst. There’s kind of a Gen X vs. Gen Y thing going on – like Slacker meets mumblecore, like Kevin Smith vs. Michael Cera – but that’s really only a very small part of the overall dynamic. Set in the break room of the Comic Book Cafe and mostly lit by fluorescent lights, the set captures the sterility and anonymity underlying modern consumer culture. These are characters adrift and their personal lives happen in the spaces behind and around a flashy culture that is at once inviting and alienating.

What Okada is getting at – and what Ogawa and Rothenberg capture so well – is the poetry of the inarticulate. The language in the show is like a hyperreal poetics in which characters careen in and out of interior monologue, into dialogue, into exposition and back again. The characters are struggling to express themselves and interpret the interplay between their inner lives and the world around them. At the same time they are trying, without great skill, to negotiate interpersonal relationships that seem always just a little bit beyond their ability.  Characters narrate each other’s stories, the effect is slippery and fluid; it creates and captures the feeling of being emotional at sea, slightly befuddled by an overwhelming world.

Rothenberg also captures Okada’s oblique choreography. The language of the show is matched with very subtle movement that at times evolves into choreographed expressions of the characters’ inner lives as they speak. The effect of the language and movement together is to create a unified aesthetic that is at once understated and explicit. One scene in particular, when two of the twentysomethings hook up, is particularly moving in its depiction of the awkwardness, tentativeness and desire of young love.

Culturebot definitely recommends ENJOY – check it out! It is playing at 59e59 through April 25.

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