LOVE IS BLIND, February 2012

”As the quake gradually settled down”, by Niino Morihiro, Theater Arts, No. 50

In this article I offer my thoughts about the interpretation of a classic from a contemporary point of view in ARICA’s LOVE IS BLIND (directed by Fujita Yasuki, text and concept: Kuraishi Shino; music: Itoken, Saruyama Osamu, Takahashi Eijiro. Iwato Theater, February 8)
Usually in ARICA’s work, stage sets and props play an important role. In their latest show, I was surprised and impressed by the cross-shaped catwalk that occupied the stage. One of the two narrow platforms stretches in the center from upstage toward the front of the audience, and the other runs across the stage sideways quite close to the audience, both placed at a height of less than a foot off the floor. They intersect each other at centerstage to form a cross. Placed at the far end of the vertical platform is a chair, and high in the ceiling directly above the platform runs a rail, the kind you find in warehouses, along which a pulley slides back and forth. Also hanging from the ceiling are things like a kettle, a birdcage, an old-fashioned telephone, a plastic bottle, a potted plant, a toy parrot, and so on, all attached to ropes with the ends in a small compartment at stage right where a stagehand hides and operates the ropes. The musicians are in the space upstage off the platform on either side. In this rather small blackbox theater stage, there is hardly any spare room for anything else. Meanwhile, the performer, Ando Tomoko, remains on top of the narrow platforms all the time. In the opening she is seated on the upstage chair on the central platform. Wrapped in a red oversized robe, her body is attached to a few sets of ropes hanging from the ceiling rail. Carefully balancing, Ando controls the ropes to move toward the audience along the platform, as if she were a puppet being manipulated by herself.
The program handed out at the theater said the play was based on Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s 18th century classic The Love Suicides of Sonezaki, adapted and conceptualized by the company’s playwright Kuraishi Shino. The rest was left to the work of the company’s director and the performer. These restrictions Ando has, like the narrow catwalk to move around and being attached to ropes, are reminiscent of the conditions of townspeople bound by strict social norms, and the agony of women depraved of their independence and liberty which Chikamatsu depicted in his shinju (love suicides) plays. At one point Ando puts an empty speakerbox over her head and sings at the top of her lungs in tempo with the music played by the musicians. This is followed by subtle tunes of recorded jöruri music. Ando then stands on top of the chair, takes off the red robe to reveal a white dress, cuts the ropes with a knife and frees herself from all the restrictions. It is as if she has come out of the suffocating, agonizing world Chikamatsu had portrayed into the present. After freeing herself from the ropes, Ando walks right and left along the lateral platform for a while and then, she leaves climbing the slope upstage, reciting the verse which was also printed in the program: Until the day I go to the hell in the other world / I’ll remain in the hell of this world / and keep speaking and sucking (on it to the bone)… On her way, she pulls on a green rope to let all the suspended objects fall. I remember the toy parrot suddenly utter some words in the middle of the play. Such humorous moments were effective. But at the end, what we see is the real human nature of falling into the hell called love, a metaphor of modernization or the process of people being liberated from feudal bonds and becoming modern, lonesome individuals.
Another point of interest in this performance was that, as commented by director Fujita Yasuki in his talk with the critic Sasaki Atsushi, they were expecting no fumbling or mistakes in this performance. Although what happens and how it happens in the play is more or less fixed, accidents are inevitable since Ando performs on top of very narrow platforms and suspended by many ropes. It’s very probable she could fall off the platform or fail to grab the objects hanging in midair. Accidents are pre-designed in the choreography, and therefore, they are not “mistakes”.
In real life, living without any mistakes is not possible. You make mistakes, you pay. A stage performance without any mistakes would be just a utopia, but I didn’t think this show was separated from our real life at all. If I had seen this show before the Great Earthquake last year, I might have seen it as one of the non-text theater works that is classified as “post-dramatic theater”, viewing its playfulness as something intellectual, but to me, Ando’s extremely careful handling of the props and the ropes, struggling not to fall off the very narrow ground, was very real and truly moving. Departing from the “love suicides” puppet play, ARICA’s LOVE IS BLIND has firmly soft-landed on the ground of our everyday lives.