Curious Incident… (夜中の犬に起こった奇妙な事件)

夜中の犬に起こった奇妙な事件 (Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night)

4/19/14 (Sat), Tokyo

I had seen the London production last year (just a few weeks before the roof came crashing down during a performance) and was interested in seeing how the Japanese would approach the piece, especially in this much smaller space. Tickets were hard to come by because of the star, Morita Go, the idol singer who was so good in Kinkakuji a few years back.

The production was absolutely superb, making an equally compelling case for the material as in London. One excellent touch was the shift of the action from England to Japan – Christopher became Yukito, the trip from Swindon-London was Shizuoka-Tokyo, A-level exams became some sort of equivalent Japanese test and so on. The material was adapted so deftly that it didn’t feel at all like a foreign work, and it allowed the actors to behave normally instead of contorting themselves kabuki-like into their image of a Westerner. This approach is done at times for the classics, especially Shakespeare, but not enough for contemporary works. I hope this becomes a trend. Some of the characters, like the father, actually came off better in the Japanese version.

The parts that were unconvincing before remained so, especially whether a mother who seemed to care so much about her child could really pick up and leave him without saying a word, who could write him reams of worried letters but never attempt to call or visit. Also, I really could have done without the silly concept of the teacher reading and staging the boy’s report. That seemed an easy way out; there must have been some way to get around that cheesy device. Still, the story flowed well and was nicely paced, and the dialogue was quite good. They dealt with the semi-autistic kid in a way that was not patronizing, which was impressive.

One big change was the set. It was far more down to earth here: it had a set of only 6-8 lights above and the electronic blackboard, which came up with child-like drawings every now and then. As in London, the actors remained on stage most of the time and moved chairs and objects around as necessary to lay the scene a la Complicité, with people becoming ticket wickets, metal frames becoming doors or windows and such. That can be trying in the wrong hands, but here it was carried off with skill. The set, which was so overpowering in London, was on a smaller scale here, bringing a fantasy world down to our level. I especially enjoyed the parts where he came from the countryside to bustling Tokyo. I really felt for all the characters here; I liked how the show was not judgmental. The ending where the boy gets the puppy got the biggest sniffles I’ve heard since War Horse. If I had seen the show earlier in the run, I would have gone again.

The best part of the show was Morita’s terrific performance as Yukito, the slow kid. I found the character somewhat irritating in London, but that now seems a function of the acting. Handicapped characters are tough to get right: too far can veer into caricature and be cruel, while too little can be pandering. Morita found a portrayal that was absolutely natural and believable, and he maintained that consistently throughout the show. I don’t know much about autism (if that’s even what the condition is), but it felt right here. It helped that Morita is physically small, which added to the childlike feel of his character. The boy is the core of the show, so they were lucky to have this actor. It was almost jarring to see him shift back to his idol self in the funky curtain-call song/dance when he solved the mathematical puzzle. I always approach idol singers of this type with a wary eye, but this one delivers, and he’s not taking the easy route in his show choices with either this one or Kinkakuji. Will keep an eye out for his next appearance. His dad (Irie Masato) and mom (Takaoka Saki) also did well in unaffected performances. The old lady next door was a bit much but quite funny, and won me over in the end.

I don’t often like contemporary foreign shows done in Japanese, since the directors tend to miss the point, the actors try too hard to plug their round Japanese selves into square foreign “types”, and the translators miss way too many nuances to be coincidental. But with the shift in the setting to Shizuoka/Tokyo and the more modest staging, I actually liked this better than the original. I hope they bring it back; it deserves it.

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