In this Japanese to English translation, The Happy Lads, a vaudeville troupe that escapes from guerrilla warfare to a nearby steel tower, pass the time and soothe their fears by incorporating an AWOL soldier into their comedy act. Unfortunately, what could have been a weighty piece with light overtones is thwarted by questionable casting, production elements that are too risky, and a general lack of entertainment value.
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
Japanese playwright Hideo Tsuchida's it is said the men are over in The Steel Tower has a great premise, but falls short on execution. In it, five men, 4 relief performers and one soldier, grapple with impending doom from deserting their military base by hashing out new bits for their comedy routine. At least that's what we're told. A heightened sense of danger, however, is never really created until the closing sequences, and as a result, the juxtaposition of the “humorous look at the nature of conflict” lacks an opposite for measure. That the dialogue is neither engaging nor humorous further slams an anvil down on the playwright's intentions.
The steel tower, designed in a most dismal, but aptly war-torn way by Tomoyuki Ikeda, should be a clear indicator of peril and a small ration of comfort. The actors and script, translated by M. Cody Poulton and adapted by Matthew Paul Olmos, work diligently to present the opposite. The opening scene, running for more than 15 minutes in snooze-inducing darkness, presents unintended lethargy in the actors where they should be at least moderately manic. The energy remains diffuse from there.
The fact that they're in a steel tower and the reasoning behind it should be immediately revealed. Instead, the dialogue meanders on without a particular aim other than to frustrate the audience. This does not bode well on a flashlight-lit stage that already dulls the senses. If Lighting Designer Rie Ono introduced this risky lighting choice after the characters had already been established, their identities wouldn't be so enshrouded in mystery and nonchalance. Also worth a second look is the sharpness of the light cues that do not allow for distinct scene changes.
The original Japanese names are retained for this production, and it is a strange choice because the cast is completely Caucasian. I'd prefer to see Japanese actors in this english translation, as Tsuchida's perspective would be preserved even if the original tongue isn't. Caucasian actors calling themselves “Jonouchi” and “Kamioka” is just too much of a stretch, even if actor Gili Getz (Sasakura) attemps to say the names with a Japanese inflection.
With very little action and no stimulus, It is said the men are over in The Steel Tower drags without a payoff. Although the sound effects by Udi Pladott are done well, his cricket chirps seem to be set to a timer, fading in and out without purpose. Originally titled “The Happy Lads”, the only thing lending itself to that name is their fun, but hokey theme music. Still, the title It is said the men are over in the Steel Tower is a mouthful that should be revisited. With so many structural issues in this production, there are far more things to be remedied than the semantics.
Through March 18th. TBG theatre:312 West 36th Street, 3rd Floor (Between 8th and 9th Avenue). Smart Tix: Phone (212) 868-4444 $18