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A CurtainUp Review
By David Lohrey
It's about young people in Japan who choose to hole up in confined spaces rather than step out into the big, wide, wonderful world— taking agoraphobia to new lengths. In Japan this phenomenon is known as "hikikomori," which translates into something like "withdrawal" has something to do with the inability to cope with oppressive levels of congestion and social pressures that are largely unknown to Western audiences but are wittily, painfully and daringly revealed here
The attic of the play's title is not in fact an attic but a kind of club house room that has been purchased and assembled and then placed within a larger space. Its attraction is that is resembles in shape and design a confined crawl space. It is such a room that makes up the playing area of numerous scenes that work more like skits than a full-fledge play. When the little doors into the attic are opened and closed, with in-peering faces, it reminds one of America's own Laugh-In from the 1960s. When friend or foe gathers in the confined space, one can't help thinking of that famous group of stowaways known as the Marx Brothers.
Yoji Sakate writes witty, economical lines that work, whether he is seeking to set the mood for tragedy or for wickedly funny satire. Although much is lost in translation, the set-up is strong enough to carry the largely non-Japanese audience along for what amounts to a rather bumpy ride.
Under Ari Edelson's fine direction the actors, who all play multiple roles, contribute greatly. It is rather disconcerting to see large Caucasian actors trying to play Japanese roles, however, and often the very culturally specific lines lose their punch.
References to samurai and Hiroshima could have hit their mark, but at the perfomance I attended the audience generall was largely silent and seemed to miss the hilarity of watching two police detectives crouched over in the attic as they talk about eating curry. I wondered whether the script might be improved by adapting it for New York actors and audiences, but it is hard to see how changing curry into, say, spaghetti would have helped them relate to the humor.
The production is very polished. The lighting and sound are extraordinarily precise and impressive. Overall, this is a top-flight theatre group working on all cylinders. This is and utterly unique and not-to-be-missed experience for anyone wanting a little more than sushi before their next trip to Tokyo. Although we have our shut-ins, agoraphobics, and loners , nothing quite prepares one for the sights and sounds of "hikikomori." But then again who ever thought Americans would go for raw fish?