Friday, February 6, 2009

Five Days in March

By Le-Anne
you’ll laugh out loud when you recognize yourself in these characters • innovative, creative, and refreshing • in Japanese with English subtitles • only two performances left in NYC! • it’s pretty awesome

BOTTOM LINE: This is cutting-edge theatre on an international level. Anyone who has an interest in the cultural nuance of a changing world is totally gonna dig this. Also, anyone who would say “totally gonna dig this” is, most likely, totally gonna dig this.

A single generation is summed up in a one night stand, well, a one-night-turned-five-night-stand, in cheltfitsch Theater Company's Five Days in March presented by the Japan Society. Increasingly known as a generation of multi-taskers, it’s easy to see why Generation Y may be the most misunderstood generation since the anthropological phenomenon of labeling “generations” became a cultural norm. How can one peg a generation that won’t stand still long enough to get a good look at them? A generation that types on a Blackberry while making a money transfer at the ATM, in the middle of a conversation with their best friend, as the two are on their way to pick up their lunch, which they ordered on-line from their laptops while they were downloading their favorite MP3. Oh yes, and Gen Y is also known for using a lot of words, asking a lot of questions, and having difficulty getting to the point. Generation Y is a generation of excess. The fact that playwright Toshiki Okada’s characters take five days to complete a one night stand perfectly captures the essence of this peculiar generation.

The story takes place in March 2003, when the U.S. declared war on Iraq. Two twenty-somethings, Minobe and Yukki, meet up by chance at a somewhat lame rock concert and find themselves in bed together in a Japanese love hotel. Minobe is only at the concert because his friend Azuma is intentionally trying to “bump into” a spacey girl named Miffy, (who, by the way, does not go to the concert). Meanwhile two more twenty-somethings, Yasui and Ishihara, half-heartedly attend an anti-war protest. Randomly, one more friend, Suzuki, contributes to the telling of the tale although he is the only character, as one of the other characters so deftly points out, that is not introduced like “and here is Suzuki.” In a Pulp-Fiction-esque style, seven different points of view interweave as each character takes turns telling the other character’s tale.

The play is in Japanese with English subtitles but in no way is it exclusive to the young people of Japan. Five Days in March crosses all cultural and language barriers and is about the youth of “Any-City, USA” just as much as it is about Japan. Okada, as director, combines exaggerated gestures and repetitious fidgeting to create a modern choreography that underscores a stream of consciousness dialogue. It may sound very “ultra-modern” or “experimental,” which technically speaking I suppose it is, but amazingly this funky approach is more naturalistic than most “realistic” plays. The characters do things like pull on their trousers, twist their ankles, stretch out their arms, and cross and uncross their legs all in an unconscious manor. It may seem random, but I guarantee you will recognize every single gesture. If you don’t, just stand on a busy street corner for about 30 seconds and observe the nonverbal communication around you.

Okada also examines the verbal side of Gen Y. The structure of the play itself is rambling and full of tangents, much like the quality of storytelling of any given member of aforementioned generation. Another interesting aspect of this piece is it’s ability to literally tell a story. Using uber-colloquial language, the characters narrate the story, popping seamlessly in and out of the action as they speak directly to the audience. Again, this may sound like a theatrical device that would make a play less “real”--but, once more, it does the opposite. Rather than performers who pretend to be other people and act out “pretend” events in “pretend” real-time, it’s more like you are having coffee with a friend and you watch as they re-tell, (and act out), the tale of “the crazy thing that happened to me last week.”

Redefining observational humor, Five Days in March is a modern masterpiece. Creative direction, innovative story-telling, and superb performances by the entire ensemble make for a fulfilling night of theatre. Like the generation that it is about, it combines older more conventional techniques with a contemporary approach to create a brand that is uniquely “now.”

(cheltfitsch Theater Company: Five Days in March is part of a seven-city North American tour & plays in NYC Thurs., Feb. 5 - Sat., Feb. 7. All performances are at 7:30pm at Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street (between 1st & 2nd Ave.) Tickets are $35 ($32 for Japan Society members). Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office 212.715.1258 or in person at Japan Society. For more info. call 212.832.1155 or visit

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