The Lower Depths


Scene One. A street in Shibuya, just around the corner from the Aoyama Gekijou. Two Men enter. They are foreigners.
MAN 1: Where’s the place?
MAN 2: Not sure. One of these apartment buildings, I think.
MAN 1: Can you read the map?
MAN 2: Just about. Guess we just go inside…That’s it.
MAN 1: Wait. Look. People are lining up.
(A line of over twenty people has been formed. They are quiet, expectant, as if they have been through the experience many times before.)
MAN 2: Maybe we have to meet here. They must be here for the same thing. Yes, come to think of it, I did read something about that on the website.
MAN 1: Let’s go over.
(They go over to the group and two people who appear to be staff check their ticket and guide them to their place. As the two men have tickets numbered twenty-two and twenty-three they are placed towards the end. They wait for a few minutes. Then one of the staff members steps forward.)
STAFF: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming. We will be taking you over to the theatre in groups of five. Please wait your turn. As the performance is taking place in a normal apartment building we must ask you all to refrain from talking or making noise, as it would cause a disturbance to other residents.
(The staff members proceed to take the audience into the apartment building sequentially in groups of five.)

Scene Two. A room that was once no doubt an apartment of likely around fifteen tatami mats or so, but has now been turned into a miniature theatre. Around fifteen or eighteen seats are arranged in very tight rows; cushions in front of them bring the total number of seats to twenty-six, though the seating area juts right up to the stage area. A genkan (entrance way) is off to the left, where there is a shoe closet. From here there is just enough space to walk down the rows. People sit on the chairs, with a tiny table behind them for a technician. To the front is the stage, which resembles a very low proscenium arch stage.
Man 1 and Man 2 enter, take off their shoes and good-humoredly slide down the wall to the very front. As no seats remain they have to sit on the cushions.
MAN 1: Gosh, not much room here.
MAN 2: It’s like a doll’s house. This must be one-room apartment. There can’t be much back stage area.
MAN 1: My arse is gonna kill. My leg’s already getting muscle spasms.
(Other patrons sit down on the cushions next to them. Man 2 tries to shift over so that the lady next to him is not touching him – he’s very considerate – but it isn’t possible. The Staff approaches.)
STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, I’m very sorry but could you please squeeze up a little? We have more people to get in. Oh, and people in the very front row, yes, please do not stretch out your legs. Please remain behind the white line. Thank you.
(There is a white line made from masking tape on the floor. It means the final half-metre up to the stage itself is out of bounds, and of particular discomfort to the two Men and their long foreign limbs.)
MAN 1: What’s this theatre called again?
MAN 2: Hakobune. It means “ark”, rectangular boat. It’s like “box” and “boat” together.
MAN 1: Yeah, they got the “box” bit right.
(The lights go down. The curtain goes up. The stage shows a room inside a house, made in brilliant, intricate details: windows, a hanging light, doors. There is also strange paraphernalia: mushrooms on the ceiling; an anatomical case on the wall. And two trees, one seeming to have come in through the ceiling, the other apparently up through the floor. One of the doors opens and a strange creature enters, of ambiguous gender and species, wearing a bizarre block frock and block-like head/hair-piece. She/it rather resembles a nun. The play has begun.)

Scene Three. Man 1 and Man 2 sit in a crowded coffee shop in Shibuya. Around them sit young people. Man 2 in particular finds himself distracted by several beautiful young women. However, the tone is rather serious, as Man 1 and Man 2 are dissecting the play they have just seen.
MAN 2: Well, it was a lot of fun.
MAN 1: Do you think it was just nonsense?
MAN 2: I think it was very silly. I think they were trying to make us laugh with all the strange stuff. The trees leaking sperm…
MAN 1: But what did you say about the director?
MAN 2: Tanino? Yes, I saw one of his Ibsen productions earlier in the year. But apparently he’s a psychiatrist by trade.
MAN 1: Yes, now that’s interesting.
MAN 2 (getting out his programme, reading): Right, so, yes, it’s a goat and a pig. And they are both female. But they seemed to be like siblings…
MAN 1: But they didn’t really realize what they were, right? The goat said to the pig, ‘Oh, you look like a pig?’ Right?
MAN 2: Right. And it says that ten years before suddenly these trees appeared. And the juice from them is very nice and they used it as a seasoning for their meals.
MAN 1: White juice…Sperm…
MAN 2: Well, yes, the tree was attached to the groin of the Gulliver schoolboy lying below the room.
MAN 1: Yes, that moment. When the lights went down after the first scene, then came back up with the bottom half of the stage revealed – right before our eyes! What a moment!
MAN 2: Best moment of the play.
MAN 1: And that actor was extraordinary. Gulliver, yes, tied down, the train moving around him…
MAN 2: And the pig, she made him ejaculate…
MAN 1: So, psychiatry…Hidden desires below their simple lives…The subtext is really there.
MAN 2: Not just nonsense.
MAN 1: Like a Pinter play, he came into their lives – from underneath, from their suppressed desires – and played with them. It was a power struggle, a bizarre love triangle.
MAN 2: Yes, perhaps the psychology, the Theatre of the Absurd stuff isn’t new. But it was thrillingly done.
MAN 1: What does the title mean?
MAN 2: Yeah, I was thinking about that. Ira ira suru otona no ehon. An adult picture book that annoys you. A picture book for annoyed adults? No, probably the first one.
MAN 1: Adult picture book. Yes, it had these colourful fairy-tale elements. But it was very dark.
MAN 2: Yes, not explicit. But there were sexual subtexts the whole time. The trees and the sperm. Licking the animals.
MAN 1: Definitely gotta see these chaps again. Some of the best fringe theatre I’ve seen in Tokyo.

Ira ira suru otona no ehon
April 8 to May 6, at Hakobune 310 Studio

One response to “The Lower Depths

  1. Pingback: Japanese Neo-Theatre of the Absurd « Tokyo Stages

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