The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings


SEARCH CurtainUp



NEWS (Etcetera)



Los Angeles






Free Updates
NYC Weather
A CurtainUp Review
Only a part of what is perceived comes through the senses from the object; the remainder always comes from within.
--- Matthew Luckiesh Visual Illusions
Any given object can have two functions: it can be utilized, or it can be possessed.  The two functions are mutually exclusive. . . Typically a collector will refer to 'a lovely piece' rather than 'a lovely carving.' Once the object stops being defined by its function, its meaning is entirely up to the subject.
Jean Baudrillard, The System of Collecting
Stephen Lang & Liana Pai (Photo: Michael Daniel)
"True story" declares the man standing to the right of a scroll painting of a Japanese woman. The story teller's name is Darius Wheeler (Stephen Lang), and his opening monologue about how he acquired that scroll and many other priceless Asian antiquities makes for quite a story. Like all the characters in Naomi Lizuka's intricate new drama, 36 Views, there are layers beneath the derring-do collecting and meticulous taste that have made Darius fabulously rich. His passion for things Asian is colored with erotic brushstrokes and his success as a dealer is boosted by ethical adventurousness that involves using a restorer to add authenticity to less than choice acquisitions.

On the surface 36 Views is a mystery about an art forgery but the issues spouted by that forgery are relevant to life generally as well as other forms of endeavor (the recent plagiarism scandal involving historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and the "creative" accounting at Enron come to mind). The forgery is unpremeditated, beginning when John (Ebon Moss- Bachrach), Darius's multi-lingual assistant, invents his own version of the contents of a worthless artifact, thereby giving it the provenance of a genuine Japanese pillow book attributable to the ancient Heian era. John's make-belief, a comic gem, has repercussions that ripple through this specialized segment of the art world represented by Darius, John and the play's four other characters:
  • Sezuko Hearn (Liana Pai), an up-and-coming PhD in the East Asian art department of Columbia University who is as beautiful as the lady in Darius's scroll -- and, not surprisingly, becomes the object of his desire.
  • Owen Matthiassen (Richard Clarke), her boss and mentor, an art historian from a more gentlemanly era.
  • Claire Tsong (Elaine Tse), a performance artist and sometime restorer who persuades John to make a really big deal out of his little impromptu hoax.
  • Elizabeth Newman-Orr (Rebecca Wisocky), a somewhat mysterious woman who, like Claire, has plans that bode ill for Darius.
In a recent interview with LA Weekly Edward Albee defined a play as a "90 percent auditory experience" rather than "coming at you through the eye, like movies." Ms. Izuka takes a different view, and much as I admire Albee, her visually aware writing has an irresistible allure.

36 Views derives its title as well as its staging ideas from a famous series of wood-block prints called "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji." The script is full of suggestions for physical details which clearly served as guidelines for the vision of director Mark Wing-Davey and his superb design team. The result: A play that comes at you from all directions, with its words inextricably linked to the production's stunning visual and sound elements. These include sliding shoji screens that are as translucent as the various layers of meaning are initially obscure; floating art objects; overhead projections that subtly illustrate the shifting perspectives and tie the 36 scenes to the 36 squares of the chesslike Japanese game of Go. The relationship between living with modern and ancient traditions is illustrated by the gorgeous Asian garments frequently worn by Liana Pai's character and shed to reveal the modern American garb of her very proper American academic character.

Admittedly the play's being such a feast for the eyes at times seems to compensate for the fact that the characters, for all the layers peeled away from their surface appearances, have an aura of being artificial, more additional props than real people. Fortunately Mr. Wing-Davey has also assembled a cast of actors capable of wringing every ounce of nuance from the parts which all except Stephen Lang and Richard Clarke have previously played at the co-sponsoring Berkeley Rep Theatre.

Lang's gravel-voiced Darius is all predatory hunter, yet with a credibly sensitive side to his macho personality. Liana Pai and Elaine Tse render memorable portraits of the two women whose multicultural backgrounds add yet another angle to Ms. Lizuka's hard-edged play. Pai's Setsuko Hearn is cool and reserved but with a mile-wide streak of passion that comes to the fore when Darius brings her the pillow book that will change her career and their relationship.

Tse's Claire is the character with the most baggage to unpack in order for us to see the ardent artist beneath the aggressive, angry provocoteur who masterminds John's fabrication into a headline making grand scheme. She posits some of the play's more intriguing questions, as when she aims a spray paint can at an antique screen she's just restored and asks John whether she would be destroying it or really restoring it and further challenging him with "What if I happened to make it a better painting? Or better yet, what if you couldn't tell the difference?" In one unforgettable East-meets-West scene, Claire is a spike-haired twenty-first century samurai warrior bursting into an animated dance to the accompaniment of punk rock music.

Ebon Moss-Bachrach is just right as the brilliant nerd caught up in a situation he never intended and never would have dared to take further without Claire. Also delightfully out of his depth in all this intrigue is Richard Clarke as the endearing art department head Owen Matthiassen who finds himself faced with unexpected glory, quickly followed by unwanted notoriety.

Having seen Rebecca Wisocky in several Off-Broadway productions and also as a dancer at Jacob's Pillow (Sueno, The Bitter Tears of Petra Van Kant and The 7 Deadly Sins), I've come to expect unusual and always good work from her. Her portrayal of Elizabeth Newman-Orr, the chamelon with a twist of nastiness, more than meets this expectation. She's on stage less than the other actors, but when she's there you sit up and take notice.

So what does the mix of ideas and illusions that make up 36 Views leave you with? A sense of appreciation for spare but beautiful stagecraft, a striking final image of 36 paintings shifting into alignment to form a larger picture echoing the lady of the scroll overarching Darius's gallery -- and a lot more questions than answers about East Asian culture, perceived and real authenticity, truth and deceptions.

Playwright: Naomi Iizuka
Directed by Mark Wing-Davey
Cast: Richard Clarke, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Stephen Lang, Liana Pai, Elaine Tse and Rebecca Wisocky.
Set Design: Douglas Stein
Costume Design: Myung Hee Cho
Lighting Design: David Weiner
Sound Design: Matthew Spiro

Projection Design: Ruppert Bohle
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission
Public Theater 425 LafayetteStreet; or 212-239-6200.
3/12/02-4/14/02; opening 3/27/02.
Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 7:00 p.m--$45.
QuikTix, discounted rush tickets, are sold upon request to the general public, if available, one-half hour before curtain time to any non-sold-out performance at The Public Theater

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on March 24 press performance.
Metaphors Dictionary Cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

The Broadway Theatre Archive


©Copyright 2002, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from