- Pratthana: A Portrait Of Possessionby Okada Tosh
Staged as a part of the "Asia in Resonance" series and presented by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, Pratthanawas the result of an extended collaboration between Thai novelist Uthis Haemamool and Japanese playwright/director Okada Toshiki. Originally premiering in Bangkok, followed by a tour in Paris before being presented in Tokyo, Pratthanacombines Okada's physical actor vocabulary and strong visual style with Haemamool's powerful story of sexual experimentation and political dissidence. Staged in Thai (with Japanese and English subtitles), the play, although four hours long, was a fascinating examination of the multiplicity of ways in which issues of art, sexuality, freedom, politics, and responsibility (both political and personal) intersect.
The play tells the story of Khao Sing, an artist who lives in Bangkok. Sing tells his model, Waree, about his past; he focuses on his sexual exploits from his dalliance with a poetess in the early 1990s to his polyamorous relationship with a female artist and a male video store clerk in 2006. The audience also sees the relationship between Waree and Sing set against the backdrop of the 2014 coup d'etat. The thematic linkage of sexual and political freedom is, of course, not new; one thinks of plays such as La Rondeand Spring's Awakening(both written in the 1890s) that also addressed these joint issues. What makes Pratthanaespecially interesting are the questions of responsibility, ethics, and [End Page 253]morality. Unlike the older texts which explicitly link sexual liberation and political freedom, Okada's play presents the ambivalence, selfishness, and fear as well as the bravery and creativity present in sexual liberation, artistic creation, and political activism.
As with many of Okada's plays, the narrative is told by multiple actors; the actors often comment on their (or the others') character's actions. While this may initially sound distracting/disconcerting, in fact the result was that the play functioned as one extended story with all of the actors taking on narrative responsibility. The initial scene of the play, for example, combines narration with dialogue, shifting seamlessly between the two and moving from present to past while deftly illustrating the major ideas of the text. The narrator evokes the classical idea of Narcissus while the actor playing Waree poses; the play then jumps to Khao Sing's initial act of artistic rebellion when a teacher chastises him for painting with a stick instead of a brush. Within this brief scene the audience sees the themes of beauty, sexuality, art, and rebellion all presented in a multivalent style. Actors slip between roles of character and narrator with no significant transformation or semiotic indicator; while this may sound jarring, Okada's language allows for a flow between these roles. The effect is that the audience witnesses a multiplicity of storytelling forms which coinhere into a cohesive whole.
In addition, as in much of Okada's work, the actors create characters and scenarios out of their physicality. The performers are exceptionally physically gifted; while the stage is relatively bare (the major set unit is a large ladder) the actors create powerfully moving sculptures out of their intertwined bodies which inhabit moments of powerful stillness and swift action. Some of the most powerful of these physically acted scenes involved moments of extreme sexuality and violence combined; an extended threesome sequence (where, it should be noted, there was no nudity onstage) involved bodies engaged and intertwining with sequences of slaps accentuating moments of passion. The scene was disturbing, sexual, violent, and extremely unsettling; it was also incredibly effective at physically representing the play's thematic ideas in a performative fashion. It also must be noted that this scene extended for some time with little or no dialogue other than the grunts of the actors, the slaps, and the sounds of their bodies hitting the stage floor. The extended time frame also forced the audience to acknowledge the power and ideas behind this staging as perception of the...