Saturday, April 6, 2013

Arigato Tokyo at Buddies in Bad Times and the Debate about How to Get More Bums in Seats

"All suffering is caused by grasping and illusion."  So say the Buddhists.

Canadian writer Carl Dewer is on a book tour in Tokyo, promoting his fourth novel to a room full of people who don't speak his language.  Dewar sees himself as free of attachment: a man for whom satisfaction is derived from the ephemeral sensations he obtains from coke, casual sex, booze and clubbing rather than deeper connection.

Then Dewar finds himself in Tokyo immersed in another culture and an overwhelming  love triangle with his translator, a woman who describes herself as "made of longing" and her brother, a Noh actor dedicated to physical and spiritual perfection in the service of the creation of his art.   When Dewar arrives in Tokyo he thinks he is beyond love. He learns that he doesn't know the first thing about it.

McIvor has written a beautiful play, a profound contemplation of the nature of human love and desire and the suffering that so frequently attends it.  The script is so filled with exquisite language, complex ideas and emotions that I wanted to re-hear it immediately.

The production  is wonderfully directed by Brendan Healy and performed on what may be the best-designed and lit stage I've seen this season.  Julie Fox and Kim Purtell deserve kudos for their excellent work.   Watch how the lighting shifts on the metal rear screen, suggesting a moon, a pool, a club, a sky. It's just beautiful.

The performances are as restrained, sophisticated, elegant and evocative as the production elements. David Storch as the troubled Dewar, Cara Gee as Nushi Toshi, the translator who falls in love with him and Michael Dufays as her brother,  Noh actor Yori Toshi all give wonderful performances.

The company worked with a choreographer (Hiroshi Miyamoto) and a dialect coach (Eric Armstrong) and their detailed efforts at making the world of the play come to life have certainly paid off.  The actors did a great job of conveying another culture, another way of hearing and seeing the world, another way of expressing feeling and making art. The accents were terrific.

Special mention must be given to Tyson James as the lip-syncing nightclub performer Etta Waki.  This is a very difficult turn to do well and James nails it. Waki is both Dewar's lover outside of the triangle, and the play's narrator.  In a way, s/he is the embodiment of Tokyo: glamorous, decadent, dazzling, ageless and enigmatic.  "None of us are one thing...."

Brendan Healy, who is also Buddies in Bad Times artistic director has very publicly come out this week and said the show was struggling to find an audience.  There was apparently a meeting of artistic directors in town earlier this week due to concern about attendance levels at theatres across town this past season.

The City of Toronto could help the theatre make more money by changing a ridiculous liquor law that only allows alcohol to be consumed in the seats of a theatre with fixed risers.  If the risers are stable enough to support seated patrons, they are stable enough to support seated patrons with a drink in hand.  It's not like there will be beer hawked in the aisles.  Patrons will have, at most, two drinks during the course of the performance.  An extra $100 a night from the concession is an extra $1400 across the run, not a small matter to a struggling theatre company.

Buddies wasn't full last night and it certainly deserved to be.

Yes I know:  it is $30-$40 to go see a show on a weekend night. Spend less at the pub, take lunch for a week, eat dinner before the show at home, cut back on $4 lattes, ride your bike, walk or take the TTC, don't buy another crappy piece of clothing or cheap pair of shoes to sit unworn in your closet and go out and support your local theatre instead.  I was certainly glad I did last night. ARIGATO TOKYO is a great play and this is an excellent production.

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