by Lynn on March 2, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, March 1, 2013. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 FM: SPOTLIGHT JAPAN at Canadian Stage until March 2 at the Berkeley Street Theatre; And Slowly Beauty… at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace until March 31.

The host was Phil Taylor.

1) Good Friday Morning. It’s time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn. What do you have for us this week?

An interesting mix of performing arts.

From this past January to April there is a festival in Toronto called SPOTLIGHT JAPAN, which spotlights Japanese culture. For one short week until March 2, Canadian Stage is hosting two double bills featuring dance and theatre productions at the Berkeley Street theatre. These selections celebrate contemporary Japanese high-tech theatre and dance.

You can see all four productions in one evening. There will also be food tastings, sake sipping, poster art and music.

And for something completely different, I’m reviewing the play And Slowly Beauty….at the Tarragon Theatre, in which the playwright Michel Nadeau references Anton Chekhov’s play Three Sisters, set in Russia. So this week’s reviews have an international flavour.

2) Let’s start with Japan. How was the theatre and the dance high tech?

The two dance pieces incorporate computer generated sounds as the music. And in the second dance piece besides computer generated sounds the stage and backdrop are bombarded by projections of various patterns of dots. Sometimes they swirl, wave, pulse or splash on the dancer. Those who are sensitive to strobe lighting etc. should be warned.

The theatre pieces were high tech too because they used both androids and robots to interact with the actors in both plays.

The dance pieces were choreographed and performed by avant guard performer, Hiroaki Umeda. He is also a sound, video and lighting designer and all of it comes into play in his two dance pieces.

The first is called “Haptic” in which Umeda explores the effects of light and colour and its relationship to dance.

And the second is called “Holistic Strata” and focuses on movement of different elements, particles, dance and sound. Both descriptions are taken from the program.

I’m always interested in other art forms and am open to new experiences. I enjoy dance pieces but I don’t know the vocabulary so I am definitely looking at it from a less than expert position. A theatrical point of view.

3) Baring that in mind, describe the dance pieces.

In “Haptic” a man (Umeda) walks onto the stage in shadow. Computer generated sound blips out, pulses, sounds static, and gets more frequent in the patterns. The man moves to the sounds, body rooted to one spot for the most part. The body sways, writhes and twitches as if it’s a machine that is shorting out. It’s part hip-hop/break-dancing with out the actual travelling across the stage of break dancing. It’s very robotic in places.

Umeda’s gracefulness and franeticness meld. Various shafts of coloured light are illuminated on the floor.

I have concerns. Aside from not knowing what the physical aspect of the perception of colour means—as per the program, I find it difficult to even consider his next point—‘to give substance to the relationship that colour has with dance.’

Why difficult? Because for most of the performance, Mr. Umeda is in shadow and you can’t actually see his specific movements or how his movements are connected to the coloured light which is way over there and not close to him.

For “Holistic Strata” there is a computer generated soundscape more frenetic than the first piece I thought. The stage and back wall are bombarded with projections of patterned dots.

Again, you have to be impressed with his movement and imagination, but without context I thought it was clever for its own sake.

4) Tell us about the theatre pieces and the use of robots.

The two plays are: “Sayonara” and “i, worker”. They are the result of a collaboration between writer director Oriza Hirata and first Android-Human Theater and Robot-Human Theater.

The android/robot creators wanted to examine the fundamental meaning of robots as machines developed by humans to work, and the fundamental meaning of human existence in contemporary society.

In “Sayonara” a woman (live) is dying and her father bought her an android for company. An android is created in the shape/form of a human. This android is a woman with a woman’s voice; blinks and the mouth opens and shuts when it talks.

The android converses with the woman and recites poetry so the woman can cope with her progressing situation. The woman sits in profile in a comfortable chair downstage; upstage the android sits on a stool facing the woman, her hands folded in her lap.

A lot of the poetry is about loneliness. The android was more audible and expressive than the actress, who often I couldn’t hear. What does that tell you?

5) And what about the second play?

(LYNN)“i, worker” is the piece and involves two robots that interact with the couple who live in the household. The man reads a magazine and asks the robot about the planets and the various moons each has. The robot—like google only in personal robot form—answers every question.

Another robot is in the kitchen cooking. A woman brings out the food that the robot made saying the cooking was terrific.

It looked inedible to me—soggy, sagging pizza. Just who these people are and why they had robots is better explained in the program than the actual play. That’s not a good thing. It might be considered cutting edge to use robots/androids with actors in the theatre, but I found the whole thing a triumph of technology over bad acting and skimpy writing.

One thing made me laugh. Both robots are cute with a big head and arms that move and a shape that suggested that both were female, except the one talking about the stars has a man’s voice.

The other one who cooks, wears an apron and has a woman’s voice. So much for cutting edge in theatre—the creators reverted to a sexist stereotype that the woman cooks and the man talks about the heavens. Hardly moving at all.

6) You didn’t have a good time.

On the whole, no. I can appreciate the effort and imagination but it left me cold.

7) Who would you recommend it to?

Any one who is curious about another culture’s work. Japan is rich in cultural history. People who like theatre off the beaten track; provocative, challenging. This stuff is very contemporary but didn’t really engage me.

Interestingly two weeks ago I saw two Japanese films of Kabuki performances, also part of Spotlight Japan. Two performances were filmed in Japan and then shown over here. Kabuki dates back to the 1600s, is very stylized, traditional theatre, with that wonderful white face makeup, inexpressive faces and it was riveting. Drama, pathos, tension; LIFE!!!!

8) And what about And Slowly Beauty…at the Tarragon Theatre?

It’s written by Michel Nadeau. Directed by Michael Shamata. It’s about a man named Mr. Mann who has lost his way. He works in a business as the go to man to restructure. It’s becoming drudgery. He is married but his wife and he seem distant.

One son doesn’t have a job except for working for his parents doing odd jobs and has all sorts of grand plans without any substance or background. Their daughter loves languages and has found her ideal job.

But then Mr. Mann wins some tickets to see Chekhov’s play Three Sisters. It’s a wonderful play about three sisters who always talk of going back to Moscow but never do. In which their friends never work but talk about its nobility and philosophize about the future and how wonderful it will be or not. How life is really an illusion. In any case Mr. Mann loves that play and sees it many times in the run. He goes alone and is transformed. It’s an interesting juxtaposing.

All through And Slowly Beauty…, Nadeau has stitched scenes from Three Sisters. They might reflect something Mr. Mann thinks or feels.

9) Does the melding of Chekhov work in the play?

I think it a terrific idea that just misses. The biggest challenge is that when you write a play that echoes that of a master, as Chekhov is, then your play is diminished in comparison. And I think And Slowly Beauty… is diminished. I thought that Nadeau got muddled and lost towards the end, but found his way by the end. And perhaps the ending seems a bit pat, but I appreciate the effort.

Michael Shamata has directed a stylish, thoughtful production. The design by John Ferguson of a rich house all wood and glass with a tree in the middle of it says a lot about beauty, elegance and success.

As Mr. Mann, Dennis Fitzgerald can convey sadness and disappointment with a look. He’s a man who keeps trying. You root for him.

At times I thought he was a bit too fussy, but on the whole he’s convincing and moving. The rest of the cast was pedestrian and in the Chekhov scenes definitely flat.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

Spotlight Japan continues at the Berkeley Street Theatre until March 2.

And Slowly Beauty….continues at the Tarragon Theatre mainspace until March 31.