The twisted, dream-like Japanese play “The Room Nobody Knows,” which arrives in Philly via FringeArts this weekend, is bizarre enough on its own. But in its original incarnation, simply arriving at its makeshift Tokyo theater proved to be a surreal experience.
“The audience was limited to only 25 people, who were instructed to come to a parking lot behind the Aoyama Round Theatre in a fashionable neighborhood in central Tokyo,” recalls Yoko Shioya, artistic director of New York City’s Japan Society. “I thought it would be a site-specific work in a tent or something, but then we were taken to a small, very old Tokyo apartment building across the alley, and as we got off of the elevator I realized it would be in someone’s apartment.”
The apartment, as it turned out, belonged to Kuro Tanino, a psychiatrist-turned-playwright who wrote and directed “The Room Nobody Knows” for his own avant-garde theater company, Niwa Gekidan Penino. The experience of cramming into a tiny Tokyo apartment — “You had to shrink yourself and bump up against other people,” according to Shioya — will be partially recreated with a cluttered, claustrophobic set built on FringeArts’ stage.
The play involves two brothers who live together in an otherworldly apartment, where they’ve created strange erotic alter-egos. The set is comically stocked with “pig faces, phalluses, demented plastic heads and secret compartments,” which get explored as the siblings prepare for a birthday party.
“It’s a very elaborate work,” Shioya says, “and depending on who you are and how you can connect yourself to the piece, many angles will be revealed. It made me think of the problematic tendencies of Japan’s young generation, who tend to cocoon themselves or are socially inept. So in a sense it’s very much one slice of a Japanese phenomenon, but at the same time it’s universal in the way that hidden things are revealed.”
Shioya was initially reticent to bring the show to the States, which she’s done for a five-city tour, because of its sexual explicitness. As she puts it, “the tolerance for things related to the bottom half of your body in this country is very limited compared to the Japanese.” But she found willing venues like FringeArts’ new home on the waterfront which were eager to push the envelope. “What happens in front of your eyes during this show is really mesmerizing,” she says. “It’s an inspiring and jaw-dropping experience.”
‘The Room Nobody Knows’
Jan. 30-Feb. 1
140 N. Columbus Blvd.