Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Arigato, Tokyo

Daniel MacIvor, Tyson James photo: Tanja-Tiziana
MacIvor’s Postcard from Japan is picture perfect.
by Christian Baines
Daniel MacIvor’s Arigato, Tokyo is something of a creeper. Opening with the first of numerous cryptic monologues performed by the bewitchingly androgynous Etta Waki (Tyson James), it quickly finds focus in following Carl Dewer (David Storch) on a book tour in Japan, where his novel, he is told is loved not for its comedy, nor its observations on love, but as a melancholy work of ennui. A hard partying cynic on a strict, if insatiable diet of sex and cocaine, Carl is accompanied by his ‘good baby sitter’ minder, Nushi (Cara Gee), who may have a far more personalized style of care in mind for her Canadian charge. But she’s not the only local whose eye has settled on the cynical author.
From this cast of somewhat unsympathetic, yet utterly compelling characters, MacIvor spins an aesthetically rich and satisfyingly disquieting story about the unwavering, ubiquitous human desire to be with the wrong person. Carl searches for a fix to his own self-destruction in people who are potentially more destructive still. Storch does a terrific job of bringing this to life onstage. The palpable vulnerability that underpins his performance (and he’s on stage for almost every scene) rises to the challenging task of bridging our empathy to this embittered ex-80’s coke fiend.
MacIvor’s dialogue is snappy and well paced

Every bit his equals are Gee, along with Michael Dufays as the two souls caught in his wake, competing in an Orton-esque rivalry for his affections – at least, so far as they can go. Distanced from either of them is Etta Waki, Carl’s last Japanese lover, a transgender woman serving both as narrator and as representative of all the broken hearts Carl has left behind – and one gets the impression there are many.
Director Brendan Healy has employed a range of interesting tricks to emphasize each supporting character’s role in Carl’s life, either as an object of desire, or such an object now broken. Nushi’s position behind him, for instance, as she translates his work at a variety of readings, feels like an ominous foreshadowing of her future in Carl’s story.
MacIvor’s dialogue is snappy and well paced, with some genuinely interesting observations of Japanese language and culture, which add an extra layer of authenticity. The only parts that feel a touch redundant are James’ monologues, which find focus late in the piece, but struggle to connect with the central story until that point – feeling like interruptions rather than the evocative explorations of the characters’ thoughts that one suspects they’re meant to be. There are a few of these at the top of the play. As mentioned earlier, Arigato, Tokyo is a creeper.
But given the patience it deserves, it is an exceptional one, powerful and honest, packed with characters we want to spend more time with despite their awful flaws – or perhaps because of them.

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