Monday, October 4, 2010

Toshiki Okada, Hot Pepper; Air Conditioner; The Farewell Speech

Hot Pepper

On Saturday I had my first Festival d’Automne adventure for 2010 with the journey to Théâtre de Gennevilliers to see Toshiki Okada’s latest trilogy of short scenes, Hot Pepper; Air Conditioner; the Farewell Speech.

My first and most immediate response to these Okada works was a sense of alientation thanks to their relentless repetition. Okada’s is not repetition in the Philip Glass or Sol Lewitt vein of American modernism, where repetition leads ultimately to a place of insight and revelation even when the work itself does not reach that place. Okada’s repetition frustrates, cringes and could easily irritate an unsuspecting audience. This is a repetition that entraps and alienates, and as the characters are at the mercy of the inhumanity of their work place, so might we become hostage to the repetitions of the performance. In each piece the two or three characters repeat the same lines over and over and over again. They repeat their gestures, the intonation of their voices, they repeat their ideas, and their questions to each other. The repetition creates an insistence on the part of characters who are either not heard, or not understood in the alienating work environment of contemporary Japan. The three pieces cohere around the laying off of a young woman named Erika from her job in what we assume to be a large, inhumane, Japanese corporation.

The piece I “enjoyed” the most was Air Conditioner perhaps because it was the most frightening. A young woman and equally young man stand at the center of the stage while she writhes in self-conscious agony explaining to him that someone keeps turning the air-conditioner down to 23 degrees, even as she turns it up, and so she is always cold in the office. The disrespectful and misogynist male employee dismisses her as he keeps insisting that she is cold because she is a woman as he gyrates his hips and makes obvious sexual advances. The young woman is so self-conscious that she continues to grab her arms, and rub her legs to warm them, it is as though she wants to make her body disappear from before the man. The uncomfortable distance at which she stands from him, her inward turned feet, and everything else about her gestures and words, registers with the audience as “abuse” “disenfranchisement” and sexism in the office. The power of this piece comes in its passing on to us of the pain and agony she experiences in the office.  

Air Conditioner

For all the sparsity, there is an adornment to the three workers’ discussion about, for example, in Hot Pepper where to go for Erika’s farewell dinner, or in Air Conditioner the question of who keeps lowering the temperature of the air conditioner. Namely, the unpredictability of the lighting, the organicism of the characters’ movements and the lilting, almost singing, quality of their voices elevates the pieces to sophisticated representation. Although my only access to the language is the French surtitles, the dialogue in these pieces is apparently colloquial, fractured, code-like. Thus, the banality of the characters’ conversations is, on the one hand, the banality of most of our conversations on most days. And, on the other hand, their performance is highly aestheticized. The speech rhythms are determined by the music — looped pieces by John Cage, Stereolab, Tortoise und John Coltrane — the unconnected, seemingly random body movements by the interaction of the words, speech and music. And the multi-colored lighting effects appear customized to the individual performer.

The Farewell Speech

Thus, while the three pieces might appear to be laced with banality and inanity, their complex and sophisticated presentation far exceeds the said entrapment through repetition to create a searing critique of the sheer hell of the capitalist workplace. The fact that these young people are doomed to one of two social states — unemployment or discrimination in the workplace — is all the more impressive because of the way their inevitable disenfranchisement is performed.


Jonathan said...

Did you take the photos? They're very nice images. I wonder if they'll come to New York - I'd love to see this, now that I have decided (again) that I am working on bureaucracy…

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