‘Zero Cost House’ Review: Could Thoreau Save Us Now?

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For an everlasting determine within the American canon, Henry David Thoreau is needier than you would possibly assume. When this relic of the 1800s exhibits up in Toshiki Okada’s probing, humorous, vastly resonant play “Zero Cost House,” he’s insecure about his Twenty first-century standing. It’s fairly clear he’s been holding shut tabs.

“Do you Google yourself, Mr. Thoreau?” the playwright asks — as a result of that is the type of present the place the writer is a personality (effectively, two characters; extra on that in a second), communing with the previous.

“Sure, every day,” Thoreau solutions. So he is aware of that his readership is down.

Okada himself, as a younger author in Tokyo, was a fervent “Walden” devotee, and satisfied that he all the time could be. By his late 30s, although, he has turn out to be an internationally lauded experimental playwright, but additionally a man who considers Thoreau’s treatise on easy dwelling naïve.

In “Zero Cost House” — written for the Philadelphia-based Pig Iron Theater Company, which first staged it in 2012 and has reconfigured it fantastically for Zoom — these two variations of Okada (performed by an assortment of actors) butt up in opposition to one another, albeit gently. Plush rabbit puppets and a charismatic architect-philosopher are alongside for the journey, with Björk on the soundtrack and forged members buying and selling off characters virtually relay-style.

To step into an Okada play is to enter a dreamscape, and that’s true of this fractured stage memoir, too. Then dream morphs into nightmare. The earthquake that struck Japan in March 2011, setting off a tsunami and a nuclear catastrophe at an influence station in Fukushima, turns into the catalyst for Okada’s reconnection with “Walden” and a extra radical lifestyle.

What provides this live-streamed “Zero Cost House” specific efficiency proper now’s the big variety of lenses now we have by means of which to view it — the various calamities jolting individuals into working for social change or into altering their snug lives in drastic, as soon as unthinkable methods.

But this play is just not a dour train. Translated into comfortably colloquial American English by the Okada veteran Aya Ogawa, it has a friendliness that makes it approachable.

Directed and tailored by Pig Iron’s co-artistic director Dan Rothenberg — whose earlier Okada productions embrace the achingly atmospheric post-earthquake meditation “Time’s Journey Through a Room” and the extra comically contemplative “The Sonic Life of a Giant Tortoise” — “Zero Cost House” encourages us to grab the chance of catastrophe: to be courageous sufficient to stay extra meaningfully, to assemble a greater world.

By re-engaging this deeply with the textual content, making it work so superbly on-line, the artists behind this manufacturing — together with a uniformly glorious forged and a pair of designers, Maiko Matsushima (visible) and Rucyl Frison (sound) — are themselves responding to a disaster.

Within the play, Thoreau mentions a second in “Walden” when he meets a pair who “seemed to be in dire straits, and what was worse, they had no awareness of how their circumstances had gotten that way in the first place.”

Amid our personal dire straits, Okada prods us to contemplate how we obtained right here — and what we urgently want to alter to avoid wasting ourselves.

Zero Value Home
Ultimate efficiency Sept. 25 through Zoom; pigiron.org

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