Where were you when the bombs started dropping on Baghdad? The hipsters in Toshiki Okada’s surreal Five Days in March—now being staged by Witness Relocation at La MaMa—were hanging out and hooking up, attending desultory protests and grappling with quiet conflicts. For these bystanders to history, events occurring elsewhere charged an otherwise humdrum swathe of time with strange significance.
Okada’s five days span the last hours of the Iraq war countdown, and the barrage’s onset, in March 2003. Amid the upheaval, six young Tokyo denizens enact minor-key versions of geopolitical events. In the play’s main thread, Minobe and Yukki meet at a club and repair to a love hotel for the next five days—a sexual shock-and-awe campaign—before parting without ever exchanging names. Meanwhile, Miffy, a blogger flummoxed by insecurities, fails to “conquer” Minobe’s friend Azube during a fraught encounter. Two others follow the anti-war protest that wends through all the narratives—but carefully stay near the back, far from scary activist-types.
The performers step in and out of multiple characters—offhandedly narrating into a mic, then slipping casually into scenes. (A miracle of transposed idiom, Aya Ogawa’s translation captures the studied nonchalance of New York cool-speak.) The relay style suggests that these slackers could be anyone. Meandering conversations and glancing liaisons happened all over the world as destruction began: the background noise of history. Juxtaposing world-changing events with private crises heightens the pathos of characters’ small triumphs and failures—evanescent, like performance.
Director Dan Safer’s choreographies beautifully embody this idea, finding enlarged meanings for quotidian gestures: two performers shifting in chairs becomes a unison dance showing a transitory meeting of minds; staging the psychic turmoil wrought by a minor romantic crash-and-burn, Safer amplifies awkward twitches to melodramatic pitch.
In a stunning flourish, Miffy resolves to leave human foibles behind, blasting off into the stratosphere—cueing a plaintive silver space–suited rendition of Bowie’s “Is There Life on Mars?”
During the piece’s hushed final moments, Minobe and Yukki say goodbye against a projected photograph of a busy Japanese street. Till now, we’ve heard their story through shaky recollections, but as it ends, we fleetingly see their farewell unfold in real time, in a real place—and then they’re gone. For a second, their ephemeral travails acquire epic scope—as big as any battle or disaster.