This revival of a work first performed in full last year in Berlin and developed from the earlier play Cooler, chelfitsch (aka writer-director Toshiki Okada)’s Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech consists of three semi-connected episodes set in the same office.
In the first, three temps (haken staff) discuss the farewell party of a colleague in the break room. They do not talk; they each have monologues in which they move around in unrelated jerks based on everyday gestures. A lot of their speeches revolve around food preferences, the eponymous listings weekly freesheet, and other idiosyncractic banalities.
Next two workers have a protracted exchange about the air conditioner temperature in the office and who is changing the setting. The conversation literally repeats itself while the two performers’ dance grow more and more harried.
Finally we get the farewell speech from the worker leaving the company. Only, all she can talk about is shoes and soap!
The piece contains the chelfitsch trademarks: seemingly unconnected physical movements alongside colloquial, fractured dialogue. However, this time music and lighting play key parts. Each of the three scenes is played *with* (i.e. not just *against* but integrated with) a piece of music. The soundtrack is part of the performer, defining their movement and speech rhythms. Especially in the first sequence, where different colours illuminate for different performers’ speeches, making a kind of private disco effect.
As with all things chelfitsch, its focus is double-edged. The theme is ennui, alienation, even boredom. But it achieves this by revelling in those very things. Of course this can be pretty off-putting as well. The content of the dialogue is deliberately banal — but it also chillingly hammers home that this is indeed what we do discuss most of the time, especially at work.
The venue, on the top floor of Harajuku’s Laforet, was totally sold out with a fairly young audience, proof of chelfitsch’s immense following now. However, emerging afterwards into the masses of twenty-year-olds milling around the crepe stalls, clothes shops and Starbucks of Omotesando was a depressing experience. Much of this crowd were either students or so-called freeter, meaning they were detached from the horrors of modern work — but only replacing those shallows with their own.
Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech
May 7 to 19, at Laforet Harajuku