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The power of fiction in theatre and the transformation of reality —3rd installment

Futoshi Sakauchi
Associate Professor of School of Culture, Media and Society, Faculty of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Waseda University

Maybe it should be called a link with theatrical vision. On the stages of two different countries where no direct references can be made between the two, at an important point in time, both are facing in the same direction in tackling difficult themes. In recent years, one of those themes is that of the basis for occupants of certain land.

In Kicking a Dead Horse, which premiered in 2007 at Abbey Theatre in Ireland, a New York art dealer sets off by horse into the wastelands. This main character, after gaining fame and fortune by selling old paintings of the American West painted from the perspective of a white man, sets off on a quest of "authenticity," but on the way, in the vast, infinite desert, his horse died suddenly. The plot centers on the digging of a hole to bury the horse, but while digging, fragments from the land's history are uncovered, breaking down the mental foundation of the man.

Heading for a different place that isn't "here and now" on horseback while being aroused by historical landmarks of the West such as the construction of the transcontinental railway and the oppression of the Indians may have parallels with the cowboy picture Easy Rider, where the characters travel horizontally over familiar land on steel horses, but in the core of dramatic acts, there are vertical movements shaking the "authenticity" of our present. This self-critical American story can be sympathized with in Ireland by connecting the surprisingly well preserved Iron Age sacrificial bodies which were actually dug up from a peat bog, with the modern victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland in a poem by Seamus Heaney. That is because there is no doubt that it resonates with the details of the Celtic culture which shakes the "correctness" of the society that was constructed on the land only a few meters above.

Also in 2007, playwright and director Akio Miyazawa's Nyuutaun Iriguchi (New Town Entrance) was shown in Japan. It tried to look underneath the small cities which are created in new, large-scale housing complexes, and the power trying to bring down the foundations. The concrete-covered ground and bare barren soil part is expressed in a chessboard-like interweaving-patterned stage art, and the land between the city's buildings can be likened to the exposed openings to a history pushed deep into the past. Furthermore, by comparing the digging up of artifacts, which provides ethnic "authenticity", with the Japanese Paleolithic hoax, that actually occurred, it depicts the risky basis of existence seen from the occupants of the land.

『Motorcycle Don Quixote』(Photograph by Futoshi Sakauchi)

In 2006, the year before Kicking a Dead Horse opened in Ireland, Akio Miyazawa had already touched upon the theme that can be called perpendicular road movie in Motorcycle Don Quixote. In this play the characters, who have returned from a horizontal journey to a "different place" by motorcycle, bring a serene sense of reform in trying to give a different meaning to "here and now." In last year's Japanese Sleeping, the floor of the stage was a mirror, creating a top to bottom uneasiness where one could constantly see a completely opposite world. In the lines of the characters searching for earth ideal for a peaceful sleep, they portrayed the disturbing space, which was developing under their feet, and constantly reflected their other sides. Having a tough look at the foundations of the society which has been built here is one of the themes this playwright always has in mind.

『Motorcycle Don Quixote』(Photograph by Futoshi Sakauchi)

The stages of these two countries exist separately without direct reference to each other, but they have developed a connection through a theatrical vision in dealing with difficult issues.

The coincidental link of this vision itself backs up the importance of the contemporary nature of the subject they deal with. Just as the performance ended, the audience is forced to make even more active choices about how to response to that theatrical vision and the stage they have been watching while facing the performers who finished the acting. That is why the curtain call makes us feel a continuing nervousness rather than a catharsis.

Futoshi Sakauchi
Associate Professor of School of Culture, Media and Society, Faculty of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Waseda University

The author received his doctorate from the Doctoral Program in the School of English, Drama and Film at the University College Dublin (UCD). He is currently an associate professor of Studies in Media, Image, and Body at the School of Culture, Media and Society at Waseda University. His areas of expertise are physical representation theory and theatre theory. His major theses include Staging Bankruptcy of Male Sexual Fantasy: Lolita at the National Theatre" (published in Ireland on Stage: Beckett and After) and "Not I in an Irish Context" (published in Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd'hui No. 19).