- Eraser Mountain by Toshiki Okada
Eraser Mountain does not make for a fun or pleasurable night at the theatre, nor does it intend to. Instead, through a stage densely packed with objects and theatre space saturated with a grating noise, the performance confronts its audience with the question of humanity’s place in the Anthropocene. Toshiki Okada, writer and director, creates a theatrical atmosphere that embodies an alternate worldview, where the human is considered equal to other nonhuman actors in the space, and objects do not exist for the benefit or pleasure of the human.
Created in Japan in 2019 and performed at New York City’s Skirball Center in 2020, Eraser Mountain was developed within the context of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake that caused an environmental disaster by destroying the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Since then, the government has stripped a mountainous landscape of rocks and soil, transporting them to the area around Rikuzentakata in order to elevate the land to mitigate potential future destruction from tsunami waves. Attempts to restore a way of human life in one area led to devastating damage in another. Okada’s doubts about the ways in which humans attempt to control, measure, and manipulate their surroundings provided the foundation of this project. The resulting performance embeds the actor within their environment, and the humans onstage and in the audience are removed from any central, superior position. Okada seems to suggest that while this sensation may not be pleasurable, it is a necessary perspective to experience and accept. [End Page 103]
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At the New York production, audiences entered into a vibrating atmosphere, already alive with sounds and objects. Indeed, the ensemble of objects—arranged in a complex mesh of a sculpture on stage designed by Teppei Kaneuji—was ostensibly the star performer. This ensemble included meticulously aligned metal pipes, a slew of tennis balls, a soccer net, some pieces of wood, differently colored bowls, at least one fan, a video camera, and a whole lot of other stuff. It was within this landscape that the six human performers moved throughout three parts. These actors appeared nameless, and they continuously shifted their roles onstage so that there was not a sense of character attached to any particular body, nor any narrative through line. Also, a machine, something like a cement mixer, continuously circled and produced a fiercely grating noise, which was amplified by a microphone and steadily grew in intensity under the planning of Raku Nakahara.
In part 1, a person’s washing machine had broken, revealing the ways in which the human depends upon it: intimately and blindly. Since the human had no awareness of the machine’s workings, he was unable to fix it. Thus he finds himself at a laundromat with others who also have broken washing machines. The human actors became like objects onstage, described and addressed only through their aesthetic qualities—their shapes, superficial clothing details, and positions in space. As they spoke they moved in Okada’s signature gestural style, in which movements are complementary to the dialogue, but not in a realistic or logical way. The poetic and circular dialogue ruminated on the idea of broken machines, wasted time, and the machines’ typically invisible labor that allows the human to move more quickly and mindlessly through their day. But the performance suggested the value of slowing down and turning attention toward the nonhuman workers in our midst. What does the machine’s work actually look like if we have to notice? The horrible sound grew throughout this section, and in the audience, I grew more used to it, until it grew again. The soundwaves had tangible effects on the body, adding to a growing atmosphere of tension. Finally, at the end of this first part, the sound stopped and there was audible relief from the audience.
In part 2, the...