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See What I Wanna See

a Musical
by Michael John LaChiusa

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 3976

SHOWING : March 17, 2011 - April 16, 2011



Nothing is as it seems in Michael John LaChiusa's staggeringly original musical about lust, greed, murder, faith and redemption. Based on Japanese short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE consists of three short musicals. In "Kesa and Morito," two lovers plot to murder each other - neither knowing other's intent. In "R Shoman," a murder in Central Park brings together a disparate group of New Yorkers, each with a decidedly different version of the truth. Act Two, "Gloryday," follows a hoax perpetrated by a priest who has lost his faith. Each short piece weaves an intriguing tale in which a lie becomes truth and truth becomes a lie.

Scenic Designer Seamus M. Bourne
Prop Master Elisabeth Cooper
Music Director Seth Davis
Director Melissa Foulger
Sound Designer Mike Post
Stage Manager Alicia Quirk
Costume Designer Elizabeth Rasmusson
Lighting Designer Ben Tilley
Choreographer Sarah Turner
Kesa, Wife, Actress U/S Caleigh Allen
Kesa, Wife, Actress Kylie Brown
Medium, Aunt Monica Ingrid Cole
Thief, Priest Dustin Lewis
Janitor, Reporter Craig Waldrip
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


The Unbearable Fungibility of Truth
by Dedalus
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
It is a given that, post-Renaissance, humankind has had faith in “objective reality,” “truths” and “facts” that are out there waiting for our discovery. It is also a given that this faith has been exploited by swindlers, demagogues, and religious leaders, each offering a version of “truth” that is often contradictory, always self-serving.

If “objective reality” itself is built on such insecure sands, what chance does our poor memory have? How can we ever be sure that our memory is not lying, that our own eyes are not deceived by illusion or willful misdirection?

Such is the background for Michael John LaChiusa’s “See What I Wanna See,” a collection of short “musical-ettes” based on the stories of Ryunoske Akutagawa, the Japanese writer who provided the source material for Kurosawa’s classic 1950 film, “Rashoman,” in which the circumstances surrounding a horrendous crime are filtered through the perspectives of several different witnesses.

That story (“In a Grove”) provides the plot of most of Act One, here (“R Shoman”). Transposed to 1951 New York City, a rape and murder has occurred in Central Park. We hear the story from the point-of-view of the thief, the wife, the dead husband, and the janitor of a movie house showing (of course) “Rashoman.” Each version is different, each comes with assurances of truth, each can be as biased or as true as the next.

In Act Two (“Gloryday,” based on the story “The Dragon”), a priest in post-9/11 Manhattan is losing his faith as well as his ability to answer the piercing questions of all the shocked and grieved parishioners who demand answers. Fed up with the pointlessness of the world, he concocts a claim that a miracle will occur in two days at exactly 1:00 PM. The claim goes “viral” as the walking wounded of the city grasp onto the mere possibility of a return to normalcy. When the critical time comes … well, I suppose the spoiler police won’t let me tell you, but it is a transcendent conclusion that was as satisfactory to my skeptical eyes as I suppose it would be to someone with a bit more faith.

The third story (“Kesa and Morito”) is included as prologues to both acts. In “Kesa,” a married woman in medieval Japan sings to us of how she plans on (violently) ending her affair with a married man. In “Morito,” her lover sings pretty much the same song. How did the affair really end? In a frozen tableau and a red light, of course. At least if my memory is serving me well, today.

Of course all the stories are told in song, and Michael John LaChiusa’s music is both eloquent and evocative. From the Japanese flute that open both acts to the night club beat of the title song to the rousing faux-Gospel “Gloryday,” the music is an integral part of the story, and, though it may be more sophisticated than many casual listeners are used to, there are certainly memorable songs here. (Unless, of course, my memory is lying to me again.)

I’ve liked Mr. LaChiusa’s previous scores for “Hello Again,” “Marie Christine,” and “The Wild Party” (though, to be honest, I did prefer the Andrew Lippa “Wild Party” score). He has a way of using song to get to the heart of character, to express both ambivalence and unspoken sub-currents between characters. Here, notice how, with almost the same song, he shows how the Kesa and Morito story is not only a tale of violent revenge (maybe – just WHY do they want to kill each other?), but also an expression of the “Godlike Power” the planned murders give to the lovers.

The cast hits all these songs straight out of the ballpark (or straight down the hanamichi ramp, if you’ll forgive the allusion to the faux-Kabuki set ). I especially liked Kylie Brown whose three characters sketched a nice variety of women – the arrogantly smug Kesa, the outraged wife in “R Shoman” exuding sex and sophistication and deceit (depending on whose story we’re seeing), and the seductive actress in “Gloryday” who turns her affections on and off like a beer keg. Throughout, her pleasant voice covers a wide range, moving while it seduces. Dustin Lewis bring to the diametrically opposed roles of the Thief/Murderer and the Priest equal conviction, the thief all cocky new York menace, the priest all doubting “lost in the woods” confusion. Stuart Schleuse, Craig Waldrip, and Ingrid Cole all have nice turns, though I thought Ms. Cole’s “R Shoman” Medium a tad underused and “in the way,” a silly device to get the dead husband’s story. On the other hand, it adds another layer of fungibility to the “facts” of the case – are we really getting the husband’s story or is it just the medium’s fiction?

And, all five voices blended beautifully in the group numbers, even though some of the “Gloryday” pieces are written to be discordant and ”off.” (I think.)

Although most of the play is set in New York City, the design of the set (by Seamus M. Bourne) is very Japanese – a hanamichi ramp leads up to a formally constructed kabuki stage. Most of the action takes place on the bare floor in front of the stage, but the set effectively evokes the Japanese character of the source stories.

In conclusion, it is a given that I deal in the fungibility of facts and memory. I do not take notes while I watch a performance (if I’m writing, I’m not watching), so I have to depend on memory to fill in details of plot and character and performance. Sometimes (some would say often), that memory deceives me, and I make grievous errors that require follow-up correction. This play is a reminder that memory, that point-of-view, is critical in describing the “external reality” of an event or an experience. And. unless we can place ourselves in the position of an omniscient observer (or grandstand fool-osopher, as we critics tend to be), we will always be a little bit at sea when making our way through the ebb and flow of belief and experience, certainty and doubt.

Whether or not the details I’ve related here are accurate or not, the “truth” is that I had a very good time at this play, that I found it compelling and moving, and that I can’t wait to hear some of these songs again.

-- Brad Rudy (BK

by playgoer
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
"See What I Wanna See" is being given a wonderful production at Actor's Express. In the opening speech, a board member indicated that it was his third time seeing the show. I took it as hype at the time, but this truly is the type of show that rewards multiple viewings. The theme is how truth varies from person to person, and the fluctuating perspectives make for a fascinating show.

Three Japanese short stories are the source material for "See What I Wanna See." The set is mildly Japanese in flavor, with straw mats on the playing area, a ramp at stage right, and an upstage pavilion with plain lines. Only one of the stories keeps its Japanese setting, though -- each act starts with a Japanese person planning to meet a lover for the last time. In act one, it's the female of the pair; in act two, it's the male. Each tells the same story in song, but with a different ending.

The other two stories have been moved to a New York setting, with Central Park a central locale. Act one's story is "R shoman," a re-telling of the classic Japanese film "Rashoman," in which motives and actions leading to a death in the park are examined from the viewpoints of the four major characters (with the fifth character, a medium, bringing the victim's viewpoint to life). Act two's story is "Gloryday," in which a disillusioned priest sets up what he believes is a bogus miracle.

All the stories keep the audience on their toes as the "truth" shifts position. The stories are largely sung, and there are five glorious voices in the cast of five, plus a first-rate three-man band. Mike Post's sound design has head mikes on all the actors, but not a one of them needs amplification in the small auditorium. Still, the sound of the massed voices is thrilling. This is a terrific-sounding show.

All the actor-singers are given ample opportunities to shine. Ingrid Cole, as the medium and the priest's aunt, sinks her teeth into each role, giving memorable life to the two characters. Dustin Lewis inhabits his two characters of a thief and the priest, giving two distinct but entirely believable, rivetingly detailed performances. Stuart Schleuse is given the most physical activity, which he handles effortlessly, and he also brings great conviction to his three roles. I remarked in the first act how he was given a difficult lift and turn as one of the lovers, and thought "at least he doesn't have to sing while doing that." Then, in the second act, he made the same movement, all the while singing. Impressive.

Craig Waldrip doesn't give a completely believable performance as a somewhat dim-witted janitor in "R shoman," but he does well as a TV reporter in "Gloryday." The performances of Kylie Brown in her three roles bothered me a bit. As a lover starting the show, she may have been trying for oriental inscrutability, but the effect came across as opaque and/or unfocused. The effect carried through into "R shoman," where her character was supposed to be a somewhat loose (but married) showgirl. She gave an absolutely wonderful monologue as this character, but all the individuality of the character left when she sang. She came across as more consistent in "Gloryday," but it too required her to play a sexually loose female. Ms. Brown naturally has such a wholesome air and bearing that it works against the characters she is playing. I fault director Melissa Foulger for not getting the performances out of Kylie Brown that she is fully capable of.

Lighting by Ben Tilley is terrific, focusing action when needed and turning blood-red for each instance of the murder in act one. Costumes are fine, but not particularly noteworthy, and wigs are above par. This is a production that looks and sounds great, at least from the center of the audience area. I have a feeling that blocking doesn't work equally well from the sides of the house.

I can't help but contrast the professionalism and depth of the Michael John LaChiusa's writing in "See What I Wanna See" with Aurora Theatre's "Academy." Both are new works unfamiliar to local audiences and both mine fairly familar works ("Rashoman" and "Faust") for inspiration. "Academy" is the far weaker show (although it's PG-13 and "See What I Wanna See" is R). "See What I Wanna See" is streamlined in comparison, making its points and moving on. The score is better too, making it clear why Michael John LaChiusa was the first recipient of the Stephen Sondheim Award. A top-notch cast in a top-notch show creates a production worthy of being seen and re-seen. That's what "See What I Wanna See" is. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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