Naomi Iizuka finished writing 36 Views in the fall of 1999. It was published in book form in 2003 by The Overlook Press in Woodstock, NY. The complete text of the play was also published in the February 2002 issue of American Theatre. Originally, the play was commissioned and developed by A.S.K. Theater Projects in 1998. Upon completion, it was read as part of the A.S.K. Reading Series in the fall of 1999. Later, in June of 2000, the A.S.K. Common Ground Festival presented 36 Views as a workshop. The play gained recognition from this workshop and was subsequently developed at both The Sundance Theatre Laboratory in July 2000 and Breadloaf Writer’s Conference in August 2000. Following this development, 36 Views had its world premiere at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in September 2001, under the direction of Mark Wing- Davey. The play had its New York premiere in March 2002 at the Joseph Papp Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival.
Iizuka is known for her artistic blending of the ancient and the contemporary. In her plays, she has mixed Ovid’s Metamorphoses with the darkly intriguing and deeply upsetting subculture of homeless youth. She has transported Virgil’s tragic characters Dido and Aeneas to the tough, uncompromising realism of modern Los Angeles. In 36 Views, she has successfully and creatively melded elements of traditional Kabuki theater with a modern vision of Western forms.
The play raises questions about authenticity. The play, which garners its name from a series of woodblock prints called 36 Views of Mount Fuji by nineteenth-century artist Hokusai, constantly presents the question of what is true and what is real. The characters struggle with the authenticity of precious, ancient art objects and artifacts. They question the truthfulness of their relationships with one another. Last, and most important, the characters question the authenticity of their own decisions, their lives, and themselves.
Act 1, Scenes 1–10
The play opens with a crisp image that exemplifies an important theme of the play: orientalism, i.e., the style or manner associated with or characteristics of Asia or Asians. It opens with complete darkness, all except for an ancient, hanging scroll painted with a Japanese woman in a formal pose. Darius Wheeler, an Asian art and antiquities dealer, utters the first words of the play, and his story is one of danger, luck, and intrigue.
With the tone set, Iizuka begins to construct the plot of her story. A party is being held in Wheeler’s loft space. This is the first place our main characters, Wheeler and Setsuko Hearn, meet. Hearn is an assistant professor of East Asian literature. The characters have an outwardly innocent conversation revolving around Wheeler’s collection of art and artifacts. During the discussion, Wheeler cuts his hand on a glass and starts bleeding. Through word choice and subtle action, it is apparent that both characters find each other stimulating and intriguing.
Also at the party is Wheeler’s assistant, John Bell. Although there are festivities occurring outside of the office, Bell is working. The party is being held for a famous artist, Utagawa, who has not yet arrived. Bell is frantically looking for a piece of paper when Claire Tsong, a restorer of Asian artifacts, approaches him. After a short exchange about a transcript on the desk, Bell returns to the party. Elizabeth Newman-Orr, a free agent, then enters the office. Tsong and Newman-Orr have a lofty exchange about what is an authentic artifact and what is a fake.
Outside the office, the party continues. Owen Matthiassen, the chairman of the East Asian Studies Department, approaches Wheeler and Hearn. Matthiassen informs Wheeler of Hearn’s expertise and brilliance in ‘‘writing from the eleventh century, diaries, memoirs, pillow books written by women of the Heian era.’’ The two scholars, Hearn and Matthiassen, and the dealer, Wheeler, have an intellectual exchange about the relationship of art and beauty to ideas and abstractions.
It is clear from this series of conversations, that the crowd at the party is highbrow, well-educated and cosmopolitan. Although not explicitly stated, the party must be located in a city that is a mecca for art, culture and capitalism. Bell interrupts the discussion to inform Mr. Wheeler that the long-awaited guest of honor will, in fact, not be arriving. With that news, the party begins to dissolve. As the guests exit, Bell introduces Newman-Orr to Wheeler. Newman-Orr is extremely interested in Wheeler; her persistence lands her a meeting with him the following night. Although she intrigues him, her intentions are unknown.
Later in the evening, after most of the partygoers have left, Wheeler approaches Matthiassen with the hopes of finding Hearn. To Wheeler’s disappointment, Hearn has already left. Wheeler presents Matthiassen with a Hokusai print of Mount Fuji (the namesake of Iizuka’s play). Matthiassen is insurmountably impressed. To Matthiassen’s dismay, Wheeler reveals that the print, although beautiful, is fake. The party thus ends.
The transition from the party to the next day is precipitated by Tsong reading the fine print disclaimer associated with the sale of an artifact: The vendor is not responsible for its authenticity, defects, and correctness of description. As though alluding to future troubles, Tsong declares, ‘‘Always read the fine print. There is always fine print.’’ After Tsong’s interlude, Hearn follows with a reading from the transcript Bell had on his desk during the party. These lulls in the dialogue are essential for developing tension between the characters and arousing interest in the transcript, which has yet to be explained.
Act 2, Scenes 11–20
The day after the party, Bell and Tsong are in Wheeler’s loft space having a conversation about art and artifacts. Tsong has dropped off an Edo period screen she recently restored for Wheeler. Tsong claims that all the pieces are ‘‘bric-a-brac for the leisure class’’ and that ‘‘it’s all just capital.’’ Bell not only disagrees, he also claims that Tsong does not truly believe what she is saying. To prove her point, Tsong is willing to spray paint the screen she has just restored. As she starts to spray, Bell darts in front of the screen, blocking the paint with his body. After ruining Bell’s shirt, their conversation strays from art to Bell, who is described as an under-appreciated intellectual with low self-esteem.
As the scene ends, Wheeler and Newman-Orr enter the loft space. Bell and Tsong have left. Newman-Orr wants to know if Wheeler is capable of smuggling a recently purchased painting out of Hong Kong into the United States. The reason it must be smuggled is that the...
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