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36 Views 

A play of love, art, intrigue, and seduction from Naomi Iizuka

Wednesday, Sep 26 2001
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If there was any skepticism about playwright Naomi Iizuka's popularity, she might have quieted it with 36 Views, a world premiere with bold British director Mark Wing-Davey at the helm. Named after Japanese artist Hokusai's series "Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji," the play examines the skittish notion of authenticity using the seeming discovery of a Japanese pillow book that could change the fields of Asian antiquity and art dealership. Art dealer Darius Wheeler (Bill Camp) is an unscrupulous businessman who attempts to seduce academic Setsuko Hearn (Liana Pai) with his acquisitions. She's not won easily ("Everything I say sounds like a line," he admits later), until he tells her of the pillow book apparently uncovered by his rich young assistant, John Bell (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). John and his feisty multimedia-artist friend Claire Tsung (Elaine Tse) are also entangled in the pillow book controversy, while arguing over their own values ("Money is just a thing like any other thing," Claire says). What I always find so satisfying, both emotionally and intellectually, about Iizuka's work is not only her poetic language but also her extensive knowledge of her subjects, which she's obviously researched thoroughly. This play isn't merely about the genuineness of a pillow book -- it's also about the validity of characters, of the relationship between lovers, and of the theater itself ("This is a true story," Darius insists at the play's start). Wing-Davey's direction honors Iizuka's work beautifully. He creates visual layers with upstage video projections (by Ruppert Bohle) of Japanese prints, multimedia art, and even a view of the audience. The images don't compete with the actors or the text, but rather accentuate certain moments or stage directions. Wing-Davey also incorporates Japanese theater styles, as when the actors change kimonos (exquisitely designed by Myung Hee Cho) onstage, a process called Bukkaeri. He often puts those styles in an unfamiliar context, as when Setsuko reveals a backless dress under her many kimono layers. Does this make the styles inauthentic? Instead of getting caught up in these visual and textual details, Iizuka neatly ties everything up at the end -- which was something of a disappointment. I suspect the play was polished for the regional theater circuit, but the effort seemed to polish away a little of the mystery.

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Karen McKevitt

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