Our Planet

Photograph: Julie Lemberger

Our Planet. Japan Society (see Off-Off Broadway). By Yukio Shiba. Directed by Alec Duffy. With Julian Rozzell Jr. and Jenny Seastone Stern. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.

Our Planet: in brief

Alec Duffy (Three Pianos) directs a roaming, interactive production—staged on six floors at the Japan Society—of Yukio Shiba's philosophical play, loosely inspired by Wilder's Our Town. The cast comprises Julian Rozzell Jr. and Jenny Seastone Stern.

Our Planet: theater review by Helen Shaw

A great deal of misplaced generosity has gone into the construction of Our Planet, Yukio Shiba’s numbing allegory now on at the Japan Society. The Japan Society has not just commissioned the work, it has turned itself over completely to the production, allowing a 30-member audience to roam the halls, and the actors to splash delicately right through the bamboo water garden. The script is silly and stultifying, a reductive fable in which the Earth becomes Terri, an idiotic little girl who has learned nothing in her billions of years of life.

Shiba’s conceit is that Terri is both the actual planet (“If I stop turning around, it all ends, doesn’t it?”) and a child growing up in a Tokyo apartment. Her best friend is Luna (inertia decrees that they’re growing apart); every day seems to be her birthday. Far, far away at the other end of the universe, another child talks with his teacher about the lovely blue planet he can see dying in a supernova. Eventually these two innocents will gurgle and twinkle at each other in a cosmically cloying finale.

In the original Japanese, Our Planet won awards, but hearing it here (translated by Katsunori Obata, Miharu Obata and Aya Ogawa) you’ll be hard-pressed to understand why. It isn’t illuminating to make these massive planetary bodies into children, since Shiba’s version of childhood denies them wisdom, maturity, philosophy and complexity. Hearing Terri and Luna naming children’s games to each other—jump rope, red-light-green-light—will just make you hanker for an environmental piece that doesn’t infantilize the key players, or—for that matter—the audience.

The real environmental statement comes from the roaming production by inventive director Alec Duffy. He tries to move us by literally moving us: We are led up corridors and down stairs, into libraries and out across indoor ponds. He divvies up scenes between Julian Rozzell Jr. and Jenny Seastone Stern—one actor plays all the roles in a scene, alternating voices. Only rarely do the two ever meet and play together. It’s a strategy that suggests the vastness of space (as do Nobuyuki Hanabusa’s gorgeous geometric projections), since it makes the actors seem uniquely alone. But it also places a heavy, unmanageable burden upon them: An inert text gets even heavier as it becomes monologue, and the play has turned into a singsong lullaby long before our terrestrial friend has the decency to take her final nap.—Theater review by Helen Shaw

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Event phone: 212-715-1258
Event website: http://japansociety.org
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