Our Planet: Keeping Us in Perpetual Orbit

Julie Lemberger

Our Planet, an ambitious new work by Japanese playwright Yukio Shiba, offers a cosmic riff on Thornton Wilder's Our Town. This sprawling narrative traces the lives of Terri (Julian Rozzell Jr.) and Luna (Jenny Seastone Stern) — emblems of Earth and Moon — against a constellation of their family and friends in a Tokyo apartment block with the proportions of an entire universe. Our Planet glides back and forth between "real" and galactic time, nestling domestic identities amid evolutions of stars and planets. ("You're late. It's been 5 billion years.")

Shiba's play can be evocative and even beautiful in parts, but it is also ponderous and meandering. Luckily, director Alec Duffy — whose previous productions have demonstrated a keen sense of theatrical space — gives this drama an imaginative, expansive staging that leads the audience into galleries, office cubicles, and libraries throughout the Japan Society building. The most successful scenes attach live bodies to the abstract voices we hear: for instance, a lovely dinner-table sequence recalling a teacher's home visit, which we glimpse through large window panels.

In other sequences, however, we listen to monologues voiced by disembodied speakers, with little to look at except Nobuyuki Hanabusa's crisp motion graphics, which imbue the production with appropriately spacey astronomies. If it sometimes feels as if a whole lifetime has gone by in a single scene, that's the whole idea; Our Planet keeps us all in perpetual orbit.

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