Bush Theatre June 2007
Shoji Kokami's play is amiable, inventive, frequently comic, occasionally touching, and ultimately too self-consciously clever for its own good.
What is at its best an engaging rumination on themes of identity,sanity, love and commitment overstays its welcome and wanders into self-congratulatory murkiness.
Three school friends are reunited under strained circumstances. Masa is an incipient schizophrenic prone to the delusion that he is a deposed 13th-century Japanese Emperor.
The shrink he consults turns out to be old friend Reiko, herself barely recovered from identity and self-esteem problems of her own. And Sanzo, who has become a flamboyant drag queen since they last saw him, takes on the role of Masa's nurse.
While having fun with the various confusions, the play does raise intriguing parallels between Masa's illness and Sanzo's conscious choice of an alternative identity, and between Reiko's attempt to bring back the 'real' Masa and the public's inclination to project personalities on to their rulers.
Meanwhile, the tension between friendships and professional relationships raises questions about the nature of love and responsibility.
And then the author goes and spoils it all by not being satisfied with his accomplishment.
Trying to add further layers to the play's texture, he raises that hoariest of clichés, the possibility that we may have confused doctor with patient all this time, and then compounds that by bringing in every possible permutation of who's sane and who isn't in the trio.
By that time the play has disappeared up its own cleverness, and it takes some effort to remember the strengths it showed before it lost its way.
The translation by Amy Kassai is unobtrusively colloquial, and the direction by the author presumably produces exactly what he wanted. Though the characters retain their Japanese names, they are played by Western actors with no attempt to 'act Japanese'.
Rhashan Stone has the flashiest role as the drag queen, nicely balancing the need for the character to go over the top with the danger of caricature.
Stephen Darcy hints at a gentile Woody Allen figure in making Masa an amiable loser, while Meredith MacNeill remarkably manages to piece a believable and sympathetic character out of the disjointed tics and bits of history the author has written into Reiko.
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