An absurdist Japanese performance is both enjoyable and comprehensible
THANKS TO ITS welcome diversity in programming, Thong Lor Art Space is a great place to visit on a regular basis. Just like the vibe from the restaurants, bars and nightspots for which this neighbourhood is famous, TLAS keeps its lights on, its curtains up and its vibrancy throbbing all year round.
Last month, Thong Lor Art Space hosted “Suk-ka-sak-ka-raj”, an interdisciplinary performance in which cellist Yui Cello shared the stage with an actress/illustration drawer, a ghost writer, a physical theatre artist, a contemporary dancer, independent musicians, a sound designer and a documentary filmmaker. Although they didn’t have time to work across fields, the fact that artists from so many disciplines could be seen in one work was a rare treat in this country.
Now, it’s the contemporary Japanese performance “1969: A Space Odyssey? Oddity!” by Kaimaku Pennant Race (KPR), making its Southeast Asian premiere. From the title, which was drawn from Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey” and David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” released in 1969, and the fact that the show was at Avignon OFF Festival, audience members were expecting either a dance performance or non-verbal comedy with plenty of music. We were all caught by surprise.
Three performers in white unitards, namely Takuro Takasaki, GK Masayuki and Yuri Morita occupied the stage while playwright and director Yu Murai, in street clothes and with a globe attached to his hat, remained downstage watching in front of his sound effects control board. Occasionally during the show, Murai poured milk from a jar and drank it from his glass. Towards the end we could see a spaceman miniature at the bottom of the jar.
Among many scenes dwelling on absurd situations, there was one in which two performers argued about a new pair and a worn-out pair of white shoes. In another – compulsory audience participation is enforced by keeping the full house lights on – all three of them, wanting to cross the border, walked into the audience stand and asked us, in Thai and English, which direction was south. We pointed them in various directions.
The show was heavily text-based and yet, thanks to the English and Thai surtitles on the four monitors placed on four corners of the stage and visible to all in the audience stand at all times, we could all understand what they were talking about. I noticed that Japanese audience members or Japanese-speaking Thais laughed more than us, so this was perhaps another case of slightly lost in translation.
The whole experience brought back a fond memory of watching Samuel Beckett’s absurdist drama masterpiece “Waiting for Godot”, which, brought me many more smiles and laughter when I was in my early 30s than it did when I was in my late teens.
“1969: A Space Odyssey? Oddity!” pleasantly reminded me that I was born and raised in the space exploration era, when there was neither Internet nor smartphones. I recalled how excited I was to watch “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” at the cinema. I also remember how my Grade 7 classmates were impressed with my class presentation on the space shuttle, using a toy my cousin brother brought for me from the US.
But I don’t think the purpose of this show was to remind me that I am now middle-aged.
In fact, while in no way political, it made me realise that in much the same way as space exploration during the past half century hasn’t progressed very much and man’s landing on the moon remains the most exciting moment, our country has been led by one military prime minister after another, with several coups in-between. Of course, we have Internet and smartphones now, but our democracy hasn’t progressed that much. Could the new constitution be a way out or would it be 1932 eternally?
– “1969: A Space Odyssey? Oddity!” by Kaimaku Pennant Race runs until Sunday at Thong Lor Art Space, a five-minute walk from BTS: Thong Lor. Shows are at 7.30 nightly with a 3pm matinee on Sunday. It’s in Japanese with Thai and English surtitles. Tickets are Bt500 (Bt450 in advance, Bt350 for students). Call (095) 924 4555 or go to Line ID “@lvj7157z”.
– June will have Pattarasuda Anuman Rajadhon’s staging of Josh Ginsburg’s “Stick Figures”, with Thai- and English-speaking casts alternating. For more details, Facebook.com/ThongLorArtSpace.