Review: ‘Day Standing on Its Head’

Give Toronto's I Mother Earth credit for one thing: The band is ambitious.

Day Standing on Its Head

(Manhattan Theater Club, Stage II, New York; 150 seats; $ 27 top)


A Manhattan Theater Club presentation of a play in one act by Philip Kan Gotanda. Directed by Oskar Eustis.


Sets, David Jon Hoffmann; costumes, Lydia Tanji; lights, Christopher Akerlind; sound, John Kilgore; original music, Dan Kuramoto; production stage manager, Ed Fitzgerald; press, Helene Davis. Artistic director, Lynne Meadow; managing director, Barry Grove. Opened Jan. 25, 1994. Reviewed Jan. 22.


Harry Kitamura ... Keone Young Lillian ... Kiya Ann Joyce Joe Ozu ... Stan Egi Lisa ... Liana Pai Nina ... Tamlyn Tomita Mother ... Kati Kuroda Fisherman ... Glenn Kubota Sam ... Zar Acayan Day Standing on Its Head" is ... night. After more than 90 exasperating minutes of fantasy, symbolism, non sequiturs and a bad Peggy Lee impersonation, that one-word anti-explanation is all playwright Philip Kan Gotanda affords his audience. It's not so much a letdown as the fully anticipated extension of the preceding bluster. Gotanda tells the story, or at least suggests the story, of one Harry Kitamura (Keone Young), an Asian-American law professor and former '60s radical in the throes of a midlife crisis. His marriage is crumbling, he's haunted by his dead father, he becomes obsessed with a mysterious woman's neck, vicious dogs snarl at him, his arm disappears, etc. What is happening to Harry and what is merely nightmare is difficult to determine, which of course is Gotanda's point. Playwright is loath to give his story so much as a geographical grounding -- the setting is simply the city -- and conveys Harry's confusion through an episodic swirl of surrealism and reality. At times, the conceit almost works. The total disarray of Harry's life is made clear as he questions the relevance not only of his present, but of his past. When a contentious young law student challenges the dubious political legacy of Harry's militant past, the professor must reconsider his entire adult life. Gotanda goes the situation one better by forcing Harry to face a philosophical reevaluation and a factual one: The personal history that Harry has so often told turns out to be a lie. Oddly, one can imagine a more restrained treatment of Harry's crisis yielding a greater emotional payoff. Gotanda's stylistic excess comes off as calculated, a hollow intellectual exercise. Oskar Eustis' direction does what it can to add dimension, as do most cast members. The efforts aren't enough. A new West Coast co-production of the play is planned by the Asian-American Theater Company and the Berkeley Repertory Company. "Day Standing on Its Head" might indeed be ... night. Future audiences can hope for a ... rewrite.
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