Wednesday, April 07, 2010


Photo/Carol Rosegg

"Ah, yes." Such a simple phrase, a line of communication, agreement, understanding, and yet, there's so much more to Enjoy. Toshiki Okada uses a stream-of-conscious, fourth-wall-breaking narrative--best described as the awkward indirect--in order to capture that elusive "more." In execution, the actors simply describe their thoughts and actions in the third-person. But in style, this serves to exaggerates their own self-effacing tones, which in turn amplifies the overall theme of displacement, particularly in relation to age, which is itself simply a matter of perception. In other words--and this play is all about other words--Okada's choice to avoid action/drama is a perfect one, for it so utterly describes the listless fixations and small tragedies of its characters. Having Dan Rothenberg (Chekhov Lizardbrain) direct and the hollowing, postmodern playwright Aya Ogawa (Oph3lia) translate is just icing on the cake.

Deadpan only as much as Beckett, and as driven by the everyday as Nature Theater of Oklahoma, Enjoy is a beautifully reflective production, the unblemished center of a Zen garden. That "Ah, yes" spoken by Actress 1 (the totemo kawaii--very cute--Kira Sternbach), is a response to a reminder from Actors 1 and 2 (Kris Kling and Frank Harts) that her character, Ogawa, is eight years younger than their characters, Kato and Kawakami. She continues along these lines:
I said "Ah yes" even though there is this feeling that like I shouldn't say "Ah yes" myself but.... But it's no, as a way of being told that, ah, yes, yes, this is all stuff I know, obviously, I mean even if I pretended not to know I know, that's the truth, so by saying 'ah, yes' it was just that, I thought it would be more honest, and I'm not just being defensive....
Actress 1's attempts to rationalize her actions while remaining in the moment grow unbearably hysteric as they continue--like a brainy version of Family Guy--as we realize that this is exactly what it is, that it really is sadly funny because it's true. By clinging to the little things, Okada and his characters expose just how shallow they are, unpacking the small talks and anecdotes we exchange with one another.

Thankfully, Okada doesn't follow his own logic to the points of discomfort, merely to the brink, at which point he switches to a parallel set of narrators. Actors 3 and 4 (Steven Boyer and Joseph Midyett) offer the cynically defensive view of the 26- and 27-year-old co-workers; Actor 5, Actress 2 and Actress 3 (Alex Torra, Stacey Yen, and Mary McCool), flesh out the doomed relationship and suicidal thoughts of a yet another 30-year-old co-worker; and then there's Actress 4 (Jessica Almasy), too young--she carries around a teddy bear on her date--to have the "laser-like" worries and focus of a 30-year-old. In another good move, Rothenberg avoids reducing the players to the sort of wincing humor that made Ricky Gervais famous: though he begins with a hyper-realism that draws out the nuances of discomfort--averted eyes, quick smiles, disdainful sneers--he soon shifts to a more malleable sort of abstracted movements that physicalize those emotions.

Enjoy doesn't show an ounce of hyperbole or slapstick, and benefits from avoiding the overwrought wit of the mumble-core genre. Instead, we get the unrelenting realizations of someone like Actor 2, in all its circumlocutory glory: "I am panicked about turning 30 but it's not as simple as that, or like, I actually have turned 30, but to be honest it really hasn't hit me at all, it's like I'm completely deluding myself... and that's where I look at myself and I'm like, wait, is this OK?" He's not deadpan, just serious--even when he adds props, trying to pose for a video camera or to find the right background music for this, the intentionally pretentious video will he records "in anticipation of impending misfortune." Such realizations strike all the characters in different ways: Actor 1, repelling a homeless customer, sees himself in those displaced eyes; Actor 4 and Actor 5, at times speaking as other characters, are obviously able to picture themselves in other shoes; and the Actresses are all, at one point or another, in and out of love.

Enjoy is about the attempt to come to terms with oneself at the current moment. The commonality it discovers--of mortality, of self-awareness, and yet also of life, of romance--is what Okada focuses on at the marvelously poetic conclusion:
"The words come out sounding totally trite," I said, but I was actually thinking how extraordinary this feeling actually is, like don't lump me with anyone else who thinks they can express their feelings with words...but then when you think about all the other people in the world who have used these words throughout history, and their feelings, perhaps each and everyone one of them was experiencing as profound an emotion as I was, actually...and if so, then these trite words...maybe these words are actually enough. 
They are more than enough. They are: Enjoy.

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