Theater review: 'See What I Wanna See' by Blank Theatre Company
Drawn from three short stories by Ryu¯nosuke Akutagawa, "See" unfolds with formal precision. "Kesa & Morito" concerns adulterers in medieval Japan who plot the other's demise –"Tonight I kiss my lover for the last time" – through analogous interior monologues as incisive prologue to each act.
Act 1's showpiece is "R Shomon," based on "In a Grove," the source of Kurosawa's classic film "Rashomon." We are in New York City, 1951, where a thief, a wife and a husband give contradictory accounts of a crime of passion, muddied by a janitor witness. This now-familiar scenario ignites in composer-lyricist LaChiusa's fusion of jazz and classicism, which blurs opera and musical theater to electrifying effect.
More schematic is Act 2's "Gloryday," which inverts Akutagawa's "The Dragon" into a quirky parable about faith. In 2002 Manhattan, a disillusioned priest concocts a hoax miracle, with ironic results. If the subject merits a larger, independent canvas, LaChiusa's post-Sondheim writing is brilliant.
So is Daniel Henning's tensely focused minimalist staging, its stark design scheme dominated by Jeremy Pivnick's superb lighting. Musical director David O expertly oversees a fine band and a first-rate cast, vocally and histrionically resplendent.
Everyone honors LaChiusa's singular idiom, giving "See What I Wanna See" its intriguing, albeit specialized punch. Nobody who values the American musical as mature art form should miss it.
– David C. Nichols
"See What I Wanna See," 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 23. $30 and $34.99. (323) 661-9827 or www.TheBlank.com. Running time: 2 hours.Photo: Lesli Margherita and Perry Ojeda. Courtesy of the Blank Theatre Company.