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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Girl X: Living under pressure

Posted: 22 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Japanese play Girl X hits home with its adult fears and concerns.

UNHAPPY people are unhappy in their own ways, to paraphrase Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy.

In Girl X, a play by Tokyo-based Hanchu-Yuei collective, scriptwriter Suguru Yamamoto delves into the depths of depression with refreshing wit and tragicomic lightness.

The play, presented by Kakiseni, had its South-East Asian debut at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre in Selangor last Friday, with Japanese actors Sachiro Nomoto, 26, and Kazuki Oohashi, 28, playing troubled young men.

An exercise in minimalism, Nomoto and Oohashi had only a projector for company, providing additional characters and even scenery. Simplying things further, the actors interacted with "characters" made up of walls of dialogue rather than actual images.

Performed entirely in Japanese, the actors' dialogue had surtitles, while the "text characters" sported English text alongside Japanese. In addition to dialogue, the play was also propelled forward by the characters literally saying "and then", emphasising it as a narrative being told directly to the audience.

Under the deft direction of Yamamoto, who also managed the audio and lighting, the starkness never felt like a lack of production value. The actors, too, had a few clever tricks up their sleeves, like interacting with each other's shadows or spinning a mirror in front of the projector to bounce the red screen around the room to mimic police sirens.

Not to rely only on gimmicks and technology, the serious and sometimes perverse script also gave Nomoto and Oohashi a chance to showcase their acting chops. The script stuck to a simple, colloquial style of dialogue, finding poetry through repetition and the occasional witty turn of phrase.

Namoto played Ryota, a door-to-door salesman of radioactivity-protection gear, while Oohashi's character was never given a name beyond the less-than-charming title "bacterium" (given by Ryota). The two were tied together by the fact that Oohashi's character used to date Ryota's elder sister Akemi back when they were in high school.

Though the character of Akemi was made up entirely of text, her "roles" were as fleshed out as Nomoto and Oohashi's performances. Yes, she was given her own monologues and conflicts. In contrast, the supporting characters did come off as shallow, acting only as bouncing boards.

Given the strong performances by the male leads, we can overlook that minor flaw.

One of the show's highlights was Nomoto's dedication to the physical humour of his role, from his finely coifed afro to his willingness to shout, run, and jump till he was soaking with sweat. Oohashi's role was a more subtle one, requiring him to deliver delirius soliloquies with his eyes firmly placed on the surtitles as if he was angry for even having such thoughts.

What made these characters so relatable, despite the Japanese context, were the adult fears they faced. Ryota, a serial loser and man child, begins to fear that he would lose the respect of his family, especially after his sister marries a highly successful surgeon. Oohashi's nameless character fears anonymity and his inability to connect with people.

In one memorable scene, he keeps track of each misstep in a conversation with his ex-girlfriend Akemi, collecting what he calls "alienation points". He even jokes that upon collecting so many alienation points, he wished he could use them to buy groceries.

Director Yamamoto clarifies that he did not leave Oohashi's character unnamed as an act of cruel irony against a character afraid of being unknown, but rather so that the audience can identify with him and maybe even put themselves in his shoes.

To his credit, Yamamoto created a very fun and zany pair of shoes for the audience to jump into for an hour.

A Malay language version of Girl X titled Gadis X will be performed at the Festival Belia Putrajaya 2014, Persiaran Perdana, Presint 4, Putrajaya in Selangor (May 23 to May 25). The shows have been locally adapted by theatre practitioner Ayam Fared. They will be held at Dewan Cempaka Sari at the festival venue. Tonight's show is at 8pm, while tomorrow's show happens at 3pm. Sunday's performance is at 1pm. Free admission. More info: www.festivalbeliaputrajaya.com.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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