I want a manga café in New York: a store where one can not only read manga, as the name implies, but also drink coffee, have a snack, rent a bed for a nap, take a shower, and on and on. In the bare breakroom of a manga café in Shinjuku (Tokyo’s answer to Times Square) is where we find ourselves for Enjoy, a new play by Toshiki Okada and staged by The Play Company at 59E59.
The play is mostly a series of monologues by the employees about crushes and drama (love?) that volley back and forth in their store. Although it perpetuates the stereotypes about comic-book nerds, the comically awkward youths are pitch perfect in their portrayal of Generation Z-ers. In fact, the first trio we are presented with, Kris Kling, Frank Harts, and Kira Sternbach, are so perfect, in fact, they almost overshadow the quality and pace of the rest of the performance. The no-fouth-wall address to the audience is a delightful indication of how uncomfortable these characters are with physical, face-to-face interaction; they’d rather describe the hills and valleys of their emotional landscapes to a faceless crowd than the person they’re discussing, rocking back and forth on heels five feet away.
It seems as though Okada has tapped in to the Douglas Coupland ennui of a generation of Japanese kids who are facing a burgeoning freelance market—the certainty of uncertainty, the success of mediocrity. Okada and the company, as well as wonderful director Dan Rothenberg of the Pig Iron Theatre, do a marvelous job of bringing the personal into the political, and Enjoy is a marvelous glimpse into the social and cultural waters of Japan today.
But I’d like to give a particularly strong hooray to set designer Mimi Lien and lighting designer James Clotfelter, who have created one of the simplest yet meaningful spaces I’ve seen in sometime. The space is deceptively bare: ugly cream linoleum tile, patched, barren walls, and a single slit of a window to let the light of the day in to an otherwise neon jungle. Fluorescent lights, of course, abound. But look closer, and you can tell the New York-style tilt of the room—barely perceptible to the naked eye, but entirely noticeable if you put a ball or a nickel down in the top corner. Either will slowly pick up speed and tell you in which direction the foundations of the building are off. And it’s precisely this sterility unhinged that provides the mark of brilliance on the piece, and a wonderful reminder of how much designers can change the world.
The Play Company has an a amazing mission as well as a solid artistic team, and l look forward to more of their international delights.