Erlina is a director, writer and performer
I came into Lantern Theatre’s production of 36 Views without too many previous conceptions about what the play was about. This is usually how I like to go in to see things. I used the first few minutes before the lights went down to read the dramaturgy, and I began to get a sense of the themes that this play might be ready to tackle. Unfortunately, I didn’t get very far before the show began. I wish I had had more time to educate myself on the subject matter, because I got a little lost during the show.
The moment where I found myself losing the story, or losing the connection between the characters was when long technical conversations were happening. I just didn’t understand. Still, I persevered and was able to put together this much: Darius Wheeler (Joe Guzman) is an art dealer of mixed reputation. He meets a woman, Setsuko Hearn (Joanna Liao) at a cocktail party who specializes in ancient Japanese ‘pillow books’ usually written by women. His undervalued and awkwardly adorable assistant John (David Pica) mistakenly brings a ‘translated’ work that is shrouded in mystery to Wheeler’s attention, and it quickly gains the interest of the other players.
Although I got a little bit confused by the production at times, the actual story is quite interesting. It took up until the end of the first act for me to get a handle on the plot, but by then I was intrigued to find out how the second act would go. However, I was a bit thrown off when it seemed like the big climax of the play (discovering whether or not the Pillow Book was faked, and by who) was completely skipped over. It was almost like I went to the bathroom and missed an important scene (I promise I didn’t.) Suddenly, everyone knew the truth and people’s reactions to it seemed as if it were happening in memory and not live. I felt Naomi Iizuka lost some traction and excitement there.
The performances were great. Bi Jean Ngo was captivating as Claire Tsong and offered some much needed comic relief, and Joe Guzman certainly toed the line between trustworthy and super creepy. However, when it comes to the relationships between the characters, I didn’t feel much chemistry. I didn’t believe the romance between Wheeler and Hearn for one second, and I felt the same about the blossoming romance between Claire and a nosy journalist played by Angela Smith. In general felt like the characters seemed disconnected from each other except for a few scenes between John and Claire which were lighthearted and sweet. Perhaps more human connection is what I wanted from the play, but not necessarily what it was there to offer me.
I tremendously enjoyed the Kabuki in the show, how it appeared in Jorge Cousineau’s set and his music, as well as in Peter DeLaurier’s placement of the players in black who moved around the set like accepted ghosts, and played wooden blocks to punctuate certain scenes.
Ultimately I would recommend this show. The Japanese artistry was beautiful, and the questions of what makes something real or false were unique. I will probably be thinking about this production in the days to come.