Review: "Zero Cost House (for Zoom)" Offers Thoreau-ly Entertaining Deconstruction
Zero Cost House (for Zoom)
Written by Toshiki Okada
Translated by Aya Ogawa
Adapted and directed by Dan Rothenberg
Presented by Pig Iron Theatre Company via Zoom
September 18-25, 2020
|Dito van Reigersberg, Alex Torra, and puppets by Maiko Matsushima. Photo by Mary McCool.|
Divided into three chapters, with a short intermission, Zero Cost House ostensibly tells the story of Okada's attempt to adapt Henry David Thoreau's Walden (1854), a vitally important book to his younger self, an endeavor that collides both with the fact that he is now fifteen years removed from the height of his Walden worship and with the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused widespread death and destruction in Japan, including dangerous damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Almost immediately, however, the race- and gender-blind casting, with white actor Dito van Reigersberg playing Current Okada and female BIPOC actor Aigner Mizzelle playing Past Okada, suggests that this production is up to more than straightforward autobiography (if, as it reinforces, there really is such a thing), and that is before Thoreau (Alex Torra, to start with)—a prickly fellow who, it turns out, Googles himself daily— appears and before identities even further lose their stability (you'll want to pay attention to the names on the Zoom windows).
|Alex Torra (arm) and puppets by Maiko Matsushima. Photo by Christina Zani.|
When at one point, Okada draws attention to the narrative's fictionality, we can't help but think that his corrective version is still a version, a story, which is an idea that perhaps connects to his realization that his government restricts and distorts information just like those of countries he saw as less free (a feeling presumably shared by many Americans these days). One might also extend this connection to the various questionings of social assumptions, from Thoreau's to Sakaguchi's (the play reminds us that although most people's first thought of Walden is of "Nature," socioeconomic critique is fundamental to the work). At another point, we observe Past Okada theorizing about the future through the hindsight that we have gained from Current Okada. Along with Thoreau, Kerouac, Dylan, and Bjork also make their way into the mix as formative influences, and Okada's relationship as a writer to what is happening in the play sometimes, in terms of English-language classics, is much more Tristram Shandy than it is Walden.
|Clockwise from bottom left: Mary McCool, Alex Torra, Will Brill. Photo by Dan Rothenberg.|
That sense of humor and humanity is evident throughout this play even as it folds in on itself conceptually and thematically, as identities shift, gesturing towards how not only we change but also how art impacts us and how we use it to structure our identities change over time and in response to the world. And the elasticity and metamorphosis of identity in the play themselves gesture to the (potential) changing of that world. Ultimately, Zero Cost House (for Zoom) proves that philosophical curiosity can be both funny and affecting.
-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards