In the early 1990s, Randall David Cook participated in a Japanese cultural exchange program in which English-speaking teachers were recruited to Japan’s schools to teach English and expose students to Western culture. Drawing from his experiences, Cook has crafted a most beguiling narrative about Japanese cultural graces and the double-sided impenetrability of clashing cultures.
Structured around the stories of three foreign teachers in a tiny Japanese village, and two natives, it is an enchanting tale. The hostess and spiritual center of a farewell celebration for the three “gaijin” is a beautiful geisha who speaks only in haiku. Sake flows. Flashbacks look upon each teacher’s bewildering experiences and their reasons for leaving their respective homelands. Lost-in-translation wackiness occurs: a Santa Claus on the cross at Christmas; one teacher wrestling with the Japanese term for being gay, “new half”, which is the cause for much philosophic-sexual contemplation.
Although the press materials discuss a blending with classical Japanese Noh theater, this is a performance firmly entrenched in Western dramatic forms, ghosts and altering characters of focus notwithstanding. The shifting to a Japanese point of view in the last two vignettes never quite makes the affective impression Cook intends, and a litany of mid-90s cultural references throughout unnecessarily robs the play of contemporaneousness. Nevertheless the five-part structure displays an elegance that indeed owes itself to a Noh temperance, and the inventive, flowing staging by Alex Lippard is a wonder to behold.