Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh
Arigato,Tokyo – the word “arigato” means, I think "apology", although like many things Japanese, including this show, it’s far more nuanced that that. In any event, this is the story of North American writer Carl visiting Japan for a series of book readings he's delivering. He understands neither the language nor the culture, so he as an interpreter, a Japanese woman called Nushi, who accompanies him on the tour.
Middle-aged Carl is a highly sexual creature with fluid desires – he goes, we are told, with anyone who shows interest in him – male , female or combinations thereof. He also consumes vast amounts of illicit substances to get high while preparing to do so, which Nushi supplies him with. So we know early on he is going to get it on with interpreter Nushi, who seems very willing indeed, and also her hunky brother, an actor in Japanese theatre, called Yori. But it isn’t quite that simple, it turns out. Why is Nosh paying our writer’s way, and why is her brother seeming to both encourage and scuttle things>
That’s the bare bones of a story which plays on themes of love, largely unrequited – no make that all unrequited – and lust. It’s a very queer-friendly story too, coming from gay Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor, teaming upon here with Buddies artist director Brendan Healy at the helm. Whether Carl is gay or bi, or just sexual, it’s easy to identify with Carl’s searching, searching, seraching for sex with no commitment (ring any bells?) and his confusions with whom and what he wants in the end.
Two conquests are not enough, so we have a fourth character Etta Wake who serves as the narrator who guides us through the story but also slips in to the role of an androgynous night club artist who has fallen for Carl previously.
If this sounds like a polite or tidy ménage-a-trois, it isn’t. These relationships are, like love, messy as all get out as they turn in the wind. So this is not so much romantic drama as erotic thriller. Its ninety minutes go quickly.
This is a spare production using a bare stage and just a couple of props, reflecting a Japanese aesthetic totally appropriate to the unfolding drama, But there is clever lighting here from Kimberley Purtell, whom I’ll single out from the production team for working wonders with this bare space. Costumes from Julie Fox reflect exactly the right aesthetic too in a production which includes fascinating elements of ritualized Japanese theater and movement. Everything blends well here, thanks to Healy’s confident, slightly quirky direction.
David Starch is truly excellent as Carl, toughly believable and authentic. The siblings played by Michael Dufays (nice muscles!) and Cara Gee are good. Toronto drag artist Tyson James as Etta Waken didn’t have the required charisma on opening night, but may grow in to this gem of a role.
I found the production totally engaging. It has all the trappings of an important work with a production which does the import of the show and its powerful themes justice.
With this production Buddies continues its string of edgy but accessible productions which deserve the attention of the Toronto queer community and beyond. Go see it!
Arigato, Tokyo by Daniel MacIvor is playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, Toronto (416) 975 8555 until April 14.
Show Times Tues – Sat 8pm, Sun 2:30pm
Complete ticketing information – including prices, group sales, and rush tickets – is available here.