KPBS AIRDATE: January 07, 2005
East meets West, in ancient and modern guise. Art confronts forgery. Deception seeps in between friends and lovers. Moral ambiguity is everywhere – in the artist as well as the art dealer, the academic as well as the journalist. Absolutely nothing is what it seems in Naomi Iizuka’s dazzling and provocative “36 Views.” The play, a beautiful, bicultural meditation on truth and authenticity, takes its name from a series of woodblock prints by the 19th century Japanese artist Hokusai, who observed Mount Fuji from every conceivable perspective. And that’s the whole point here. You can never really know anything or anyone – not a piece of art or antiquity or a friend or lover, if you maintain just one viewpoint or proceed with one preconception or expectation. Sometimes, the more you look at the object of desire, the more it eludes you, and it even changes under your gaze.
Brilliantly directed by Chay Yew in the minimalist style of Japanese Noh theater, the play is like a series of nesting Chinese boxes. Every time you think you know who’s doing what to whom, another puzzle presents itself, another subtle gradation is revealed, and you’re back trying to figure out this mystery within an enigma. The kimono is symbolic, as layer after layer is stripped away, and what you see at the end is not at all what you expected. All the drama centers around the appearance of an 11th century ‘pillow book,’ the memoir of a Japanese courtesan, poetically written, achingly honest, intimate and erotic. If it’s authentic, it’s an historically important, priceless find. But how it came to be and what is made of it is the delicious thrill of the story.
Iizuka, who’s in great national demand, did her graduate work in playwriting at UCSD and premiered some of her early efforts here. That makes it even more of a delight to see how far she’s come and how her art has matured. Her concern here is identity and cross-cultural understanding, honesty and deception, originality and forgery, morality and duplicity. The play forces you to question your assumptions and perceptions. It makes you think about beauty and the eye of the beholder. Each of 36 scenes is marked by the snap of a Kabuki clacker, backed by the evocative sigh of a Japanese flute. Modern rhythms and dress are brashly juxtaposed with archaic garments and poetic syntax. The form and content, style and substance of the production are a perfect match. A beautiful piece of theater about the nature of beauty, a Japanese-American story with a distinctly bicultural sensibility. And a visual/visceral contemplation of our intellectual and emotional response to art.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.