The title of scribe Naomi Iizuka’s intriguingly multilayered legiter refers to a famous series of woodblock prints called “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.” In real life, the views of the mountain are lessened or enhanced depending on the circumstances of the viewer; in “36 Views,” a deceptively simple series of events escalates from a casual prank to a major art forgery. As Iizuka and her collaborator, helmer Chay Yew, masterfully reveal, the veracity of art is inexorably entwined around the worthiness of the human soul.
Utilizing an open performance platform, Yew incorporates aspects of Japanese theater and contemporary commedia dell’arte, with the actors moving on and off the performance space but seldom leaving the stage area.
At the center of the action is monumentally successful and self-assured art dealer Darius Wheeler (Stephen Caffrey), who opens the play with a cryptic “true story” about his dangerous exploits in the acquisition of Asian antiquities. His tale, related in calculated but sensuous detail, is meant to impress and woo beauteous and sophisticated Setsuko Hearn (Tess Lina), a professor in the East Asian art department of a major university.
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It is soon revealed that beneath his facade of sophistication, Darius is a ruthless manipulator who off-handedly mines the talents of his talented but geekishly insecure research assistant, John Bell (Jim Anzide), and the artistic skills of ragingly resentful Claire Tsong (Melody Butiu), a skilled restorer who enhances Darius’ acquisitions. In quick succession, Darius also manages to discredit the authenticity of a beloved acquisition by Setsuko’s academic superior and Darius’ former mentor, Owen Matthiassen (John Apicella), as well as scuttle the efforts of investigative reporter Elizabeth Newman-Orr (Shannon Holt) to discredit him.
Seeing an opportunity to undermine Darius, Claire utilizes John’s verbal skills and her talents to fabricate a prized Japanese pillow book attributable to the ancient Heian era. The ensuing repercussions begin as a ripple, then surge forward as a tidal wave of excitement within the art world.
As events move forward, eventually thrusting every character into uncharted waters of catharses, Iizuka ties up loose ends too rapidly.
The impressive Asian garments designed by Lydia Tanji illustrated the relationship between the modern and the ancient. The combined design efforts of Tanji, Daniel Ostling (sets), David Edwards (sound) and Nathan Wang (music) create such a visual and aural feast they almost overpower Iizuka’s brief, episodic character interactions. Fortunately, Yew has assembled an outstanding ensemble, capable of wringing every ounce of nuance from their roles.