The play’s strongest moments occur when the focus shifts away from our man but, even in these instances, we’re not really permitted to enjoy it.
The first two thirds of the play take the form of a barely dramatised “What I did on my holidays” essay, touching on different customs of the flight attendants, the ticket inspector on the train, and eventually the Noh classes themselves. For this our man stands right out among the audience on a thrust; accompanying him, on the stage proper, is Tomoko Komura, who plays all the other roles–either silently or with minimal dialogue in Japanese.
Throughout our man’s adventures, he encounters different aspects of Japanese culture and recent history, including a religious ritual and an account of the Fukushima tsunami. Uncomfortably, each is presented only insofar as they relate to our man’s personal journey, appropriated as part of his personal journey of self-discovery.
The play’s strongest moments occur when the focus shifts away from our man but, even in these instances, we’re not really permitted to enjoy it. At one point, we are treated to a rendition of an extract from an actual Noh play, which tells the story of an impoverished woman. Noh plays, we are informed, are at their best when they talk about women and the poor – so often ignored in that portion of Japanese society. So it is a bit galling when our man uses a direct quote from it and applies it to his own life.
A similar problem occurs when Komura is finally permitted to deliver more than two lines together, and is given a monologue about the tsunami. It is beautiful. Well written and evocative, and for once actually about the experiences of Japanese people. But then this global catastrophe, so raw in recent memory, is once again used as fodder for something in our man’s personal life.
Both actors manage very well with the material they are given. Mack is more than capable of holding our attention centre stage, and Komura manages to bring clear diversity, if not depth, to her many roles. When she is really given some acting to do, such as in her monologue, she shows a very strong ability. Her final dance is particularly affecting.
At a dialogue level, this is also a well written play. It is occasionally funny, occasionally moving, always pithy. It is a great shame, however, that a play which travels so far geographically is so unwilling to travel even a little way outside of its main character's head.