There's no simple truth in playwright Naomi Iizuka 's 36 Views , whether it's truth about art, relationships or emotions.
"All those things continue to offer new possibilities, just as I find that the script reveals other meanings as I work on it," says Marjorie Chan , who plays Asian art restorer Claire Tsong in the Actors Repertory Company production.
"I keep discovering more and more textual richness in the piece, whose complicated characters are always revealing other aspects of their personalities."
The narrative deals with an art dealer who discovers what he believes to be a priceless Japanese text. Is it any more authentic than the sometimes shady works he sells, or the emotions voiced by the dealer and other characters?
"The title of the play comes from a series of prints of Mount Fuji by the Japanese artist Hokusai," explains Chan, an actor and playwright (China Doll). "He painted dozens of views of the mountain; sometimes it's only a tiny spot in the distance. As in the play, viewers are asked to think about perspective - about how they view art, each other and themselves."
In fact, Hokusai painted 46 views of his subject, not 36, so there's a touch of deception even in the play's title.
"What's fascinating is how the playwright blends the traditional and the contemporary in looking at her subject," continues the performer. "One artist in the play uses both ancient and modern techniques and the structure of the play itself combines eastern and western drama, one melting into the other. At times, naturalistic western acting glides into frozen moments of heightened emotion straight out of kabuki theatre.
"In the process Iizuka asks if art is real, what it's worth and whether its nature can be changed. Even the overlapping storylines seem to occur in a floating space where anything can happen, where reality itself becomes slippery.
"The audience will have its loyalties tested all the time. You never know who's to be trusted."
Tap it up
A young audience really takes to i think i can, playwright Florence Gibson and choreographer Shawn Byfield's striking take on bullying, school science fairs and the power of working together.
It's told largely through high-energy tap, with a troupe of eight dancers as school kids dealing with each other and a clownish, science-fixated teacher (Melody Johnson) with a Scottish accent, who wants them to succeed in the upcoming fair.
Johnson has the show's only dialogue, not all of it worthwhile. The writing for her opening scene's on the dull side, but a later stand-up routine plays nicely and intentionally on the lameness of the humour. She's more fun as the father of one of the children.
But it's the dancing that's the most striking aspect of the show, whether it's from a preppy pair (Kyle Brown and Karla Jang), a jump-roper who cries easily (Tammy Nera), a basketball-fixated guy (Matthew Brown), a punky gal (Allison Bradley) or a majorette who tries real hard (Tangara Jones).
Best of the bunch – because their stories are better filled out – are Everett Smith as Tip, a challenged kid whose limp is strikingly presented as a dragged tap movement, and David Cox as Biow, the bully who makes Tip's life hell but learns his lesson at the hands of other tormentors. The standout moments in the show are Biow's solo and the duel between Tip and Biow, a thrilling, seemingly improvised contest of lightning footwork and rapid tap sounds.
There's a real cleverness in using dance to demonstrate the laws of motion and the kids' names – Newton, Faraday and so on – echo thatscience link. Julia Tribe's bright costumes and set, which blends graffiti walls, chain-link fencing and a model of the solar system, are also striking.
Still, the show has a stop-and-start quality, its energy dipping a few times. Maybe director Conrad Alexandrowicz could have kept the piece moving more briskly, but it's also partly the nature of the show, which, despite its plot, sometimes feels structured as a series of tap routines.