Review by Helen Shaw
A Toshiki Okada play can be an exercise in mental discipline. In fact, his Time's Journey Through a Room is reminiscent of the meditation practice in which you try to count to ten without letting your mind wander, returning to "one" every time you get distracted. The glacially paced Time’s Journey is challenging like that. The script is only 12 pages long, but it takes a full hour to perform. People speak as deliberately as possible; they even pause to observe a change in the color of light. The point is to feel time passing, and that sensation is sometimes hard to handle.
Time’s Journey is the Play Company’s third Okada production—translated from Japanese, as before, by Aya Ogawa—and it is the most relentlessly uneventful of the three. Yet it contains many intimations of story: natural disaster, death, romance, grief. The almost childlike Honoka (Yuki Kawahisa) tells her husband, Kazuki (Kensaku Shinohara), about her newfound optimism. In the stunned aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, she thrills, she has the “feeling of life in early spring.” She knows that life won’t be the same, that the barriers between people have fallen down. Yet Kazuki, who spends much of the play seated with his back to us, simply waits for another woman to arrive. Arisa (Maho Honda) is on a bus, but she’s delayed; an awful car accident is to blame, but, as Arisa informs the audience, “You couldn’t hear that from here.” How far do the effects of catastrophe travel? Isn’t it a greater crisis that normalcy always returns? As the other two characters flirt, Honoka refuses to give up her post-disaster exultation. She seems madder and less human as the play goes on, but Kawahisa, an actor full of cockeyed threat, never stops smiling.
Most of Dan Rothenberg’s production takes place on Anna Kiraly’s severe Scandinavian-chic set, which features a vivid yellow floor and pale gray couch. Yet before any of the action begins, Kiraly and lighting designer Amith Chandrashaker try to shift the audience’s mood into a lower key. We spend our first minutes in darkness, looking into the heart of a light sculpture that suggests a floating Iván Navarro “wall hole”; it looks at first like an infinite blue tunnel, then like an eclipse. Our heartbeats and our thoughts slow. In this down-tempo mode, Time’s Journey feels like a marathon: Time staggers, creeps, crawls through the room. Your thoughts may be inclined to flutter out of the box that Okada and Rothenberg have made for them, but that’s the task the play asks us to face. Marshal your mind. Look at the difficult thing. Return again to one.
A.R.T./New York Theaters (Off-Off Broadway). By Toshiki Okada. Translated by Aya Ogawa. Directed by Dan Rothenberg. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr. No intermission.