36 VIEWS by Naomi Iizuka, directed by David Ferry (Actors Repertory Company). At the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). To May 5. $15-$30. 416-368-3110. Rating: NN Rating: NN
How do you count to 36 really, really slowly?
Check out 36 Views, Japanese-American writer Naomi Iizuka's painfully protracted look at secrets and lies in the contemporary art world.
The title comes from Edo period artist Hokusai's famous 36 Views Of Mount Fuji, a series of woodblock prints.
Iizuka tells her story in 36 scenes, but the reference feels like a gimmick, and it backfires. Whenever work by Hokusai, or another visual artist, is projected onto the stage's multiple screens, your attention lingers on the art, not the action below.
The story, such as it is, centres around an ancient manuscript of a pillow book that comes into the possession of art dealer Darius Wheeler (John Fitzgerald Jay), who doesn't know that it's a fake created by an art restorer named Claire (Marjorie Chan). Young art historian Setsuko Hearn (Ginger Ruriko Busch) is thrilled about the manuscript's existence, and the smitten Darius is thrilled that she's thrilled.
It's a shame the audience isn't in on the excitement. Iizuka's script skims the surface of big themes like art, commerce and beauty, and director David Ferry hammers home what he thinks are significant moments too literally (thanks to the use of rhythm sticks in the sound design).
The second act has more momentum than the first, and there's some suspense in discovering who these characters really are. But try as they might, even the actors are flummoxed by the thin writing.
And for all her attention to period detail, it's too bad Iizuka didn't focus on digitally enhanced art and photography; that's where the real drama in contemporary art lies these days.