Both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Orhan Pamuk spent most of their twenties in their bedrooms, meditating on the themes that would drive their fiction. In contemporary Japan, a growing number of young people (the hikikomori) seclude themselves in their rooms for more obscure reasons. This strange phenomenon provides the starting point for Yoji Sakate’s dazzling reflections on physical and spiritual confinement. Despite their self-imposed isolation, Sakate’s characters declare their longing for connection through recurring images of a globe and the starry skies. The infinite space within their heads is bounded by a nutshell.
Director Ari Edelson and designer Takeshi Kata conjure a remarkable staging. Virtually all the action takes place in a skewed-perspective box too small to allow the actors to stand upright. But the vitality with which figures pop into and out of openings in the walls, floor, and ceiling offsets the setting’s inherent claustrophobia. With the aid of Tyler Micoleau’s lighting, the stage space at times takes on an eerie flatness, like a movie screen or manga panel come to life. The cast is solid, if at times hampered by funny voices, a step too close to the Second City show the play structurally resembles; David Wilson Barnes and Ed Vassallo’s back-to-back detective/samurai act is particularly memorable. It might come in a coffin-like box, but this witty, bizarre, and intensely moving production is a rare gift.