#6. “American Horror Story,” “Sixth Sense,” “Ghosterbusters 1 & 2”... I do believe in ghosts. I can get behind all the occult hocus-pocus. In fact, I have promised to haunt certain people from the afterlife. Why not? If I enjoy hanging with someone now, death shouldn’t separate us.
Vitalist Theatre, in conjunction with DCA Storefront Theater, presents THE GHOST IS HERE. It’s Japan post WWII. In the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki tragedies, a small village is haunted by ghosts. Or at least that’s what they’ve been told. Oba is a con artist. Fukagawa talks to ghosts. Oba decides to use Fukagawa’s poltergeist detection to make money. He sets up a business buying and selling pictures of the dead. The hoax continues to grow as the town tries to embrace their departed. Meanwhile, Fukagawa is being oppressed by paranormal activity. And Oba’s daughter is being spooked by suitors. THE GHOST IS HERE yens to be a supernatural spoof but materializes more as a ghost whisperer.
Nobel Prize nominee Kobo Abe wrote this play in 1957. 10+ years after being bombed, Abe conjures up this Japanese ghost story. The play’s impact in that time period and in that country must have been a phenomena! (For Americans, it would parallel a story told this year but set in the year after 9/11. We can laugh now at the scammers that ripped off a grieving country... okay, *might* laugh now.) On the surface is the growing absurdity of the dead, but bubbling below are the multiple identity crisis of the living. In 1957, this dramedy must have been gripping and amusing Japanese entertainment. Enough time had passed that survivors could laugh and learn and remember.
Director Jaclynn Jutting works to bring this play to an American audience. Donald Keene translated it into English but the names and currency are Japanese. The unfamiliar is a speed bump as I listen to the grift in yens but the conversion rate is beyond me. Matching the Japanese names with the actors is difficult too especially with a multi-cultural cast. It’s hard to place myself in a Japanese village when a character has a Spanish accent. Jutting uses a linear, bi-level stage for the action. The set (Craig Choma) and lighting (Lee Fiskness) are incredible. Beautifully lit rice paper screens slide back in forth to create placement. It’s impressive. Unfortunately, I’m sitting on one end of the audience and it’s hard to see activity on the opposite end. The stretched-out staging also leads to, at times, a sluggish pace. The play is a long con that could have been a shorter and stronger sting.
Led by Jamie Vann (Oba) playing an over-the-top, jovial swindler, the large cast works hard to hit the punchline. But, the opening night audience isn’t getting the humor! On the drama side of it, Edgar Miguel Sanchez (Fukagawa) and his ghost sidekick are memorable. He consults, fights and concedes to his dead comrade. Powerful! Sanchez gives an outstanding performance. The twist in his storyline is unexpected and poignant.
THE GHOST IS HERE wants you there. Let go of the monetary and cultural differences and get lost in this translation.
Someone definitely on my "To Haunt List,"Jen describes it with 'colorful, movement & trickery.'
Production photography courtesy of John W. Sisson, Jr.
Running Time: Two hours and forty minutes includes an intermission
At DCA Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph
Written by Kobo Abe
Translated by Donald Keene
Directed by Jaclynn Jutting
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru February 19th
Buy tickets at www.dcatheater.org