Theatre Mirror Reviews - "See What I Wanna See"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Larry Stark

"See What I Wanna See"

Words and Music by Michael John LaChiusa
Suggested by stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
as translated by Takashi Kojima
Directed by Stepen Terrell
Musical Direction by Jonathan Goldberg

Produced by Rebecca Curtiss
Costume Design by Rafael Jaen
Lighting Design by Karen Perlow
Fight Direction by Meron Langsner
Scenic Design by Brynna C. Bloomfield
Production Stage Manager Kayla G. Sullivan


Piano..................Jonathan Goldberg
Reeds............Ray Taranto, Louis Toth
Drums.........................Zack Hardy
Percussion...Desiree Glazier, Adam Nazro

I really DID see what I wanna see...
But I may not be the ideal mirror in which to see this show reflected. When the films "Rashomon" and "Seven Samurai" burst on the American scene I was living a block away from the Brattle Moviehouse in Cambridge, selling books in a Booksmith right across the street from there, and volunteering backstage at Loeb. The name Kurosawa joined others from books I was reading, like Tanizaki, Kawabata, Mishima --- and of course Ryunosuki Akutagawa, whose tight, enigmatic, evocative prose in tales like "In The Grove" (which becomes "R Shoman" here) and "The Dragon" (a k a "Gloryday") and an even denser book called "A Fool's Life" expanded my literary/cinematic horizons. And since I can't sing and know little about music (though I DO have taste: I adore Sondheim and detest Lloyd-Webber) and am thus a bit more interested in The Book, maybe this free adaptation of Akutagawa's tales into musicals set around Central Park in 1951 is more my cup of tea than anyone else's. But in the act-break I murmured to the critic sitting next to me "This looks like The Future to me." In other words, I loved it.

In truth, there is little difference between Song and Book here --- people sometimes speak, sometimes sing, always in a fluid, expressive poetry. And "Gloryday" the second piece on the bill, is easiest to summarize: A lapsed Catholic priest (Brendan McNab), feeling the absence of God, commits a joke to demonstrate the folly of humanity: He posts a sign announcing that Jesus Himself will rise to heaven out of the Central Park lake at 2 p m in exactly one week --- and then watches hysterical mobs flock to witness the miracle. A new-age actress from California (Aimee Doherty), a CPA turned unwashed hippy (Andrew Girodano), a t-v reporter (Andrew Schufman) and the priest's Italian atheist Aunt Monica (June Baboian) run into him a few times during the week, all but the last groping for Something to believe. And even she, and eventually the priest himself, grudgingly bite on the unlikely Maybe.

The structure of "R Shomon" is both more solid, and more unsettling. The quintet here each play single, solid characters, each of which tells their own conflicting stories about the same event: the rape of a woman and the murder of her husband. Andrew Schufman here plays a cynical thief who proudly confesses to both crimes; Andrew Giordano as the Mafia-connected husband (Aided by June Baboian as a medium), instead says he was so ashamed of helplessly watching his own wife raped that he committed suicide. Aimee Doherty's wife bitterly insists she herself was ashamed that her husband had drunk himself into ineffectuality and so She killed Him. And here Brendan McNab plays a janitor who found the body, may have seen the killer, but cannot tell anything useful to the police.

The play feels unsettling --- like standing firmly planted on one foot while the other steps, again and again, further and further from that solidity until it's impossible to remain upright.

The music is jagged, intermittent, apparently atonal, and the cast reports it difficult to sing. It is, however, consistent with the emotions and the characterizations involved. Bravo to Director Stephen Terrell, Musical Director Jonathan Goldberg, and their stunning musicians and cast.

Oh, one important thing else: Each play is preceeded by a brief, highly stylized (and gorgeously costumed by Rafael Jaen, on Brynna C. Bloomfield's origami-like set) musical monologue, set not in New York in 1951, but in Medieval Japan. The lyric has a lover sing of reasons why the paramour, upon appearing, must be killed. In its first appearance, it is Aimee Doherty that sings, and flashes the deadly knife at the blackout. In the second, it is Andrew Giordano. In each case, the words are identical.

Kinda makes ya think, doesn't it?

( a k a larry stark )

"See What I Wanna See" (5 January - 3 February)
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 585-5678

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide