Critical Essay on 36 Views
Naomi Iizuka’s play 36 Views takes its name from a series of woodblock prints by nineteenth-century Japanese artist Hokusai. The series is entitled 36 Views of Mount Fuji. Despite its title, the series consists of forty-six prints. Even before a character casts a single word, Iizuka, with her creative title, has foreshadowed that her play will be rich with questions concerning what is real and authentic.
The first half of act 1 is set at a party for a renowned, reclusive contemporary artist named Utagawa. The party is being held at Darius Wheeler’s loft space. Although the artist has yet to arrive, many people are mingling in Wheeler’s loft. Wheeler approaches Setsuko Hearn and their conversation quickly becomes philosophical. They are discussing beauty when Wheeler presents Hearn with a ninehundred- year-old jade figure. Wheeler holds the jade figure and states, ‘‘human touch, it alters the stone, there’s a kind of chemical reaction, it actually changes the color of the stone. With each touch it changes over time, almost imperceptible, impossible to replicate. Very old jade like this, it comes in these translucent colors I can’t describe, beautiful, unimaginably beautiful.’’ With subtlety, Wheeler has revealed that he views beauty as something in flux, something changing and, thus, impermanent. The jade is beautiful, and yet it is dynamic. Even though it is different with each touch, it is always beautiful. Wheeler is enamored...
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[American Theatre]: What inspired 36 Views?
[Iizuka]: I became transfixed by the series of woodblock prints ‘‘36 Views of Mount Fuji’’ by [the 19th-century artist] Hokusai. It’s an intriguing work. Each print is a representation of the mountain from a different perspective, in different seasons. You see the mountain and the world around it, but in some of the prints the mountain is actually very difficult to make out. As I was writing the play, the question of authenticity—What is authentic? What is true or real?—became as mysterious and somehow omnipresent as the mountain in Hokusai’s study. That question, in some sense, became the mountain.
Why the wooden clappers?
The play has a lot of conventions from Kabuki theatre—like the wooden clappers. When I saw Kabuki for the first time, I thought it was one of the most exciting theatre-going experiences I’d ever had. It was so completely theatrical. When I began to do research, one of the things I found is that, unlike Noh, Kabuki—which is a newer and more secular tradition—has changed over time and has even seemed to welcome innovation. There was a kind of pliability and playfulness in Kabuki that seemed appropriate to the world of this play. I was really interested in figuring out how to take these structures that were non-Western and finding ways to synthesize them with Western forms.
The Kabuki allusions seem...
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Naomi Iizuka: Raising the Stakes: A Young Playwright Mixes the Lofty with the Lowly
There aren’t many young playwrights who name the Roman poet Catullus as one of their literary inspirations, along with Maria Irene Fornes and Adele Edling Shank. But for rising dramatist Naomi Iizuka, who avidly studied classical literature at Yale University, some ancient authors retain a bristling contemporary immediacy. And without any musty pretensions, she has enmeshed their archetypal visions into her own very singular, very up-to-date aesthetic.
Iizuka’s Polaroid Stories, a combustible portrait of homeless youth that premiered at the 1997 Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville, draws deeply on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. An earlier work, Carthage, presented by San Diego’s Theatre E in 1993, relocates Virgil’s tragic romance of Dido and Aeneas to the gritty modern underbelly of Los Angeles. In the often-produced Skin, Iizuka grafts Georg Büchner’s expressionist fable Woyzeck onto the lives of aimless Californians. And even though there are no direct literary antecedents to spot in 1994’s Tattoo Girl, this magical quest by a trumpetplaying seeker named Perpetua fashions its own brand of playfully hip mythos.
‘‘I like theatre that startles me, and that makes me reappraise my relationship to the real,’’ explains Iizuka, who is spending the current academic year in residence at Princeton University on a Hodder literary fellowship. ‘‘I think that’s probably more readily...
(The entire section is 1265 words.)