ARIGATO, TOKYO by Daniel MacIvor (Buddies in Bad Times, 12 Alexander). Runs to April 14. Pwyc $37. 416-975-8555. See listings. Rating: NNN
Japan, with its codes of behaviour and public and private masks, has intrigued many a Western writer, and now Daniel MacIvor, who recently spent time in the Land of the Rising Sun, has penned the intriguing, if unsatisfying, Arigato, Tokyo.
Middle-aged Vancouver novelist Carl Dewer (David Storch) has embarked on a Tokyo-area book tour, chaperoned - Carl's word is "babysat" - by his translator, Nushi (Cara Gee), who leads him to gigs and gets him food, drugs and sex. The smart, attractive woman has eyes for him herself, but Carl seems more smitten with her brother, Yori (Michael Dufays), a hunky Noh actor. Also in the picture as a sort of narrator is Etta (Tyson James), a drag queen performer from Carl's past.
The setting might be a departure for MacIvor, but the themes of love, art and betrayal are familiar to fans of his work, and they're subtly interwoven in the play. In some of the strongest moments, Carl, illuminated by a stark shaft of light, reads passages about love and loss from his book while Yori speaks softly in Japanese in the background.
Unfortunately, MacIvor also tries to weave references to The Tale Of Genji and even Madama Butterfly into the fabric, with little payoff. Etta's head-scratching Zen koan-like statements that act as transition scenes become monotonous. And often the playwright shows his desperation, punning on the word "Noh" and - when someone's sniffing a line of coke - "his lines are crossed."
The actors, however, are excellent (and the Japanese accents dead-on). Storch's writer is believably stubborn, obsessed and entitled, while rising star Gee, in one of her finest turns, communicates a lot with a glance or vocal shading.
Director Brendan Healy's production is handsome, performed on Julie Fox's raised wooden platform, with dramatic lighting by Kimberly Purtell. There's much to look at and think about, but less to feel.
One thing Healey and MacIvor haven't accounted for is the lack of chemistry between Storch and his objects of love and/or lust. What might seem passionate on the page needs to smoulder on the stage. It doesn't.