April 2007

36 Views by Naomi Iizuka
a Canadian Premiere
presented by Actors Repertory Company
April 19 – May 5, 2007 Berkeley Street Theatre Toronto
Authenticity In A Floating World
by David Fujino
The Story
~ When an art dealer discovers a rare and valuable 11th century Japanese text (an erotic 'pillow book'), discussion and gossip spreads quickly among a community of art dealers and workers over the book's authenticity — and the integrity of the art dealer himself — in this somewhat chatty, thoughtful, and highly aestheticized play.

The Characters
~ Has the notorious art dealer, Darius Wheeler — as in wheeler dealer? — pulled off another of his shady deals? According to the spunky art restorer, Claire Tsong, yes! — Wheeler is a "con artist, a thief". Meanwhile, Elizabeth Newman-Orr, the snoopy journalist, keeps questioning the diffident John Bell about his notorious boss. As a result of so many pressing questions, Owen Mathiassen, a scrupulous senior art dealer, and a professional associate of Wheeler, is later forced to declaim that, "We used to call ourselves Orientalists." And the poised and wary Setsuko Hearn — first seen at the play's beginning, fully dressed in Japanese kimono and formal make-up — increasingly becomes in Wheeler's mind another exotic, collectable object of his desire.

The Themes
~ In 36 discrete scenes — structured in a collage-like fashion — the notion of art as fiction, versus reality, was carefully examined by the play's six main characters who, as it turns out, are themselves unreliable and are not really who they first seemed to be.

The theme of east meets west was represented by eastern and western drama styles deftly played out on the expansive and minimalist white stage. There were slow and frozen moments, such as actor Ginger Ruriko Busch, standing still, while the two white costumed stage attendants (kurogo) unspooled layers of silk from the body of her character Setsuko Hearn. As in the theatrical traditions of Japanese kabuki and noh, the still moment, the still silent body, the image and mask, are everything. The western tradition — which the play is mostly written in — has each of the characters speaking at some length about art, illusion, honesty, lust, greed, professionalism, and lies and, in so doing, delivers to the audience a western actor's construction of character and psychology.

The Acting
~ The standout performance came from Gary Reineke in the role of Owen Mathiassen. He imprinted on the audience. His Mathiassen was dignified, principled, and caring. His voice was strong and flexible. He stood tall and unthreatening.

But, in fact, the acting by all performers was uniformly 'good', as we say — and satisfying — but all the same, particular mention must be made of Marjorie Chan's playing of the art restorer, Claire Tsong, as an impish and irreverent young woman, and compliments paid to Ginger Ruriko Bush for her layered and watchable portrayal of Setsuko Hearn in a controlled mid-range voice, grounded body, and expressive face.

36 Views / 46 Views
~ 36 Views was inspired by the 19th century Japanese artist Hokusai's series of 46 woodblock prints of the historic Mount Fuji.

But even the title 36 Views has unreliability built right into it, and so by play's end, we're left with people's multiple truths and realities.

What is true? Who lies? Who really knows?

Director – David Ferry

Gordon Bolan — John Bell
Ginger Ruriko Busch — Setsuko Hearn
Marjorie Chan — Claire Tsong
Kyra Harper — Elizabeth Newman-Orr
John Fitzgerald Jay — Darius Wheeler
Gary Reineke — Owen Mathiassen
Perrie Olthuis — Kurogo (stage attendants)
Sarah Sherman — Kurogo (stage attendants)

We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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