Theater

Toshiki Okada’s Strange Monodrama ‘Quiet, Comfort’ Is a Sleeper Hit

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We clamber happily up onto the huge bed. It looks so inviting: We’re in a plaster-walled chamber containing a mattress the size of a tennis court — Amy Rubin’s beautiful set for Toshiki Okada’s Quiet, Comfort. It boasts modern conveniences: recessed lighting, a muslin roof, a duvet stretching to its walls. As the audience arranges itself across the bed,
we notice there’s an elderly woman (Lelia Goldoni) tucked into it. She looks comfy.

The “comfort” of the title seems clear. The other part, though, isn’t so obvious. To see the understated glamour here, you might need to know that Obie-winning
director Alec Duffy is returning to show-making after too many years away. Or that Okada, the biggest noise in contemporary Japanese theater, wrote this specifically for Duffy’s company. Or that Goldoni is the original bombshell from the Cassavetes classic Shadows, which Duffy adapted in 2011. It’s wall-to-wall superstars in here, but — it’s being kept quiet.

Okada’s writing is banality played as jazz; he’s set everything, from office existence to a Tokyo love affair, to this same droning syncopation. His work emphasizes mundanity, slowing time so we feel it moving drop…by…drop.

That’s the case even for this fifty-minute monodrama, a stream-of-consciousness speech for a single actor, who emerges from the coverlet. (Julian Rozzell Jr. performs through the twentieth, at which point Stacey Karen Robinson takes over.) The actor mutters the jet-lag-dazed thoughts of a constant traveler. Sometimes he just lists technologies; other times, he notes how
his body has adapted to ten-hour flights. “Travel has a tendency towards idleness,” he says. “It’s a good tendency.”

Evaluation means little in the face of text like this. There’s no “writerly” embroidery, no salient bits for us to hang a thought on. We don’t understand the torrent of text so much as sit in its way. Egypt has pyramids, the speaker muses, but airports are all over the world. Why is that? We barely wonder. Okada and his superb translator, Aya Ogawa, are filing the edges off language. Here, even the “curiosity” part of a question is gone.

So Duffy’s staging provides edge instead. Rozzell wears a white wizard’s robe and pounces across the bed; he flails about as the lights and sound (by Amith Chandrashaker and Steven Leffue, respectively) roar out a neon storm. And who
is the near-silent Goldoni? He brushes
her hair, but the text never mentions
her. The emphatic disconnect between performance and speech does something interesting — it forces the watcher’s own experience to the fore. We’re conscious of how the once-comfortable bed has turned confining. Our backs hurt. Our own monologue of exhaustion and complaint begins. The text contains thoughts we’ve all had on long flights, and we begin to wonder, Are we the ones muttering?

In this way, Quiet, Comfort insinuates
itself into our own heads; then, like a snake, the text turns toward death. If we die when on a trip, the actor asks, does the trip continue? The “quiet” of Okada’s title now looks ominously like “quietus”; the giant bed seems like a trap. Okada and Duffy have made us conscious of how we let our lives slip away — how we let “passenger” thinking turn us inert. We’re all in bed, but suddenly we’re antsy to get out. Wake up! the play seems to shout. Wake up, wake up!

Quiet, Comfort

Directed by Alec Duffy

JACK

505 1/2 Waverly Avenue, Brooklyn

800-838-3006, jackny.org

Through August 27

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