The Attic is a claustrophobic and surreal dark comedy about a uniquely Japanese strain of social anorexia called “hikikomori.” It refers to a young adult who withdraws from society, refusing to leave his (less often her) room for years on end. Playwright Yogi Sakate takes the weirdness of this very real and hugely widespread modern day social phenomenon from Japan, imagines it as normal, and creates a shut-in other worldly cocoon for actors and audience. The result of this first English language production is funny and beautifully sad; light is shed on a new (to Western audiences at least) expression of angst.
With multiple storylines, actors playing numerous characters, and little heed to time and place, The Attic stays anchored by one central character: Older Brother. After his younger sibling commits suicide in his “attic,” a small wooden slant roofed box sold over the internet, Older Brother sets off in search of the inventor and distributor of the popular product. The entire play takes place in the dead younger brother’s attic, which, like an old house or a used car has a rich history of previous and future ownership.
As tempting as it is to read Older Brother’s search as some kind of quest for God or generalization about the needs of humanity, the real issue at hand concerns a singular cultural moment. Because realistically, though we may at times relate to a character such as Teacher who says, “I have to either retire or kill myself. I’d love nothing more than to stay in my room and be still. Please shut me in,” there is only one country where over a million people have actually followed through.