by Lynn on March 29, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto. Written by Daniel MacIvor. Directed by Brendan Healy. Designed by Julie Fox. Lighting by Kimberly Purtell. Sound and Music by Richard Feren. Choreography by Hiroshi Miyamoto. Starring: Michael Dufays, Cara Gee, Tyson James and David Storch.

Plays at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until April 14.

Japan (and by association, Tokyo) is mysterious, fascinating, inscrutable, culturally almost impenetrable to a westerner, and totally compelling for all these reasons. The same can be said for Arigato, Tokyo, Daniel MacIvor’s new play at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

MacIvor went to Japan; came under its spell and Arigato, Tokyo is the result. This is a play unlike any other that MacIvor has written. He is a master storyteller, subtly weaving details into the fabric, revealing the story bit by bit. With Arigato, Tokyo mystery shrouds the play. His language is spare, elegant, almost Haikou-like in its poetry. Each character has a reserve; emotions do not flow as easily as they do in his other works, but that goes with the mystery here.

Carl Dewer is a writer flogging his latest book. He has been invited to Japan to give various readings. His needs are simple. He wants to know if he will get a book deal; a house in the country; a lot of cocaine and laid. And not necessarily in that order. He made a previous trip to Japan for another book reading and had the same wants. He also learned that no one says “no” in Japan and “Noh” doesn’t count except in a type of theatre. So because no one ever said ‘no’ to him, he thought that the world was his. He found out, that, no, it wasn’t. But that didn’t stop him from making another trip.

His guide for this trip is a young woman named Nushi Toshi. We learn she has paid for the whole trip herself and set up all the readings for him. She wants to get closer to him both emotionally and physically. Dewer has his own secrets. He is attracted to Etta Waki, an elegant transvestite he met on a previous trip. Dewer then meets Yori Toshi, Nushi Toshi’s brother, a star of the Noh theatre. Dewer and Yori Toshi then begin a relationship.

With every situation Dewer has his beliefs and perceptions challenged and he begins to drop his defences. Initially his readers focused on sexual, superficial encounters, but as the trip progresses, his comments are more and more personal, they go deeper. Nushi Toshi professes her attraction to him and her desire to go back to North America with him. He says that’s not possible. His whole life style is challenged by Yori Toshi’s brother. Mysteriously the one most damaged by his leaving is Etta Waki. Finally when Dewer returns home, his readings and writing becomes more personal.

I certainly don’t claim to know clearly what MacIvor’s intentions are with his play. About the different guises of love and confusion? A loosening of emotional defences? All are possible. I found I was totally engaged in the listening of MacIvor’s new way of expression and I was gripped by all of it.

Brendan Healy’s production is exquisite. Julie Fox’s set is almost bare except for the occasional props. Kimberley Purtell’s lighting is moody and mysterious as well. To add to the mysteriousness, Healy ensures that we never see Etta Waki in anything other than ‘her’ costume: bra, bikini brief’s, a flowering robe and the most impossibly high heels. We do wonder—is that really a woman? A man? I love the question and that Healy keeps us guessing. I love the almost impenetrable mystery of the whole enterprise.

Arigato in Japanese means “thank you.” So the title means “Thank you Tokyo.” The meaning of which could be: Thank you for unsettling by preconceptions; my assumptions; my equilibrium. Anything really.

As Etta Waki, Tyson James is the most mesmerizing statuesque; slim character to come from a writer’s ‘pen’ in a long time. His smile is inscrutable. His body language is languid and graceful. The voice is obviously a man’s but how he uses it is feminine.

As Yori Toshi, Michael Dufays is stoical. He convinced me he came from the Noh Theatre albeit a bit stiff in his delivery.

Cara Gee continues to go from strength to strength as Nushi Toshi. She is both reserved but obviously broiling with emotion inside. Her desperation to go with Dewer is palpable. One wonders why she did not take the dramatic road that Etta Waki took.

And finally as Carl Dewer, David Storch suggests a sadness, lostness, and a lack of a sense of accomplishment that is quite moving. There is a flippancy to hide disappointment. When Dewer gets up the nerve to reveal himself, is freeing.

Fascinating production of Arigato, Tokyo. Well worth a trip but be prepared to be unsettled in your presumptions about a Daniel MacIvor play.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 TT April 19, 2013 at 1:30 am

For some reason I completely missed this review when it came out, but I’m so pleased to see it now. It was an amazing experience being in the room and engaging in the sharing of ideas as this show came to fruition. I think a huge part of its power is that the piece maintains a certain emotional distancy – because everyone with the exception of Etta is emotional sterile to a degree – and yet it still manages to touch a very human chord. Those last two readings that Carl gives are absolutely stunning. There are also moments within the script that I will never ever forget. Etta explaining that “The master is the servant of control, control is the master of the master, the free man is the servant of choice… nothing is one thing.” is indelibly etched in my brain forever.


2 TT April 19, 2013 at 1:32 am

oops — i meant distancE and emotionalLY, of course!