Manila, Philippines, February 20, 2012 – Tanghalang Ateneo and Ateneo Fine Arts Production, together with the Japan Foundation and the Department of English of Ateneo de Manila University, present Japanese playwright Suzue Toshiro's contemporary play Fireflies whose story follows three interlinked Japanese couples that are caught up in an emotional alienation. Directed by Ricardo Abad and BJ Crisostomo, and translated in English by David Goodman, Fireflies plays its last week at Rizal Mini Theatre, Ateneo de Manila University from Wednesday, February 22 to Saturday, February 25 at 7 p.m., plus a Saturday matinee performance at 2 p.m. Toshiro will also give a lecture on contemporary Japanese theater on Friday, February 24 at Fine Arts Studio, Loyola Schools at 4:30 p.m.
As an exclusively treat for BroadwayWorld.com (BWW) readers in the Philippines and with permission from Manila theater critic Carlo Rivera, BWW is publishing Mr. Rivera's review of Fireflies in its entirety:
"'Are you happy?'
These arc words echo and thunder through Tanghalang Ateneo's latest offering. Fireflies, written by Suzue Toshiro and ably directed by Ricardo Abad and BJ Crisostomo, is shot through with repetitions of this question. It bounces from one character to another, bringing an undesired self-awareness to conversations, invariably sabotaging the very happiness whose existence it queries.
I must admit, I was not happy when I first read the script.
I still recall my dumbfounded exclamation when I finished it weeks ago: 'This is either the stupidest thing I've ever read, or it's absolutely brilliant and I'm missing something.' I had not had a reaction like this since the first time I encountered T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. [I had the] same reaction: shock, hostility, alienation. But Eliot grew on me once I found the missing ingredients: his combination of allusion and fragmentation, and the careful cherry-picking of cultural influences combined to form a twisted sublimity that seems to be the cornerstone of modernist writing. Fireflies is very much a modernist play, so what was I not seeing?
What I was missing, it turns out, was live actors. This play is very much driven by its dialogue, and Tanghalang Ateneo's talented performers have made a most commendable effort to do it justice. The stage design, as befitting a production set in Japan, is spartan, uncluttered, and elegant. The music is by turns comic and tragic. The expected piano solos are there for scenes of loneliness, but it is the absurd, silly, and energetic pieces, ranging from a hilariously out of place Glen Miller to deliberately ridiculous Japanese tunes that highlight the uncomfortable results when awkwardness, loneliness, and manic energy combine.
April, Eliot writes, is the cruelest month. It is a surreal but oddly compelling beginning for The Waste Land, and Fireflies' opening scene evokes the same magnetic absurdity. Brian Sy's Nakagawa is a seething mass of desperation, insecurity, and near-madness – traits I could not see when Nakagawa was just a character on a page. The written Nakagawa acts like a horse and seems nonsensical. The living Nakagawa played by Sy acts like a horse and is heartbreaking.
I hope to be the first reviewer to mention both Seinfeld and T.S. Eliot in the same review. It's a surreal ambition, but an appropriate one. Seinfeld, the famous sitcom of the '90s, was unique in its day because its writers had a policy of 'no hugging and no learning.' The characters spent much of their time doing things and having conversations that were essentially elevated small talk; it was, famously, 'the show about nothing.' The Waste Land is similar. Fireflies is similar. There is no stereotypical character development or conscious attempt at profundity on the part of the characters. These works exist to highlight fragmentation, and Fireflies, like Seinfeld, does so through carefully tuned surrealist dialogue and the occasional heaping serving of black comedy. This is a boon to the reviewer, who does not have to worry about spoiling anything – the plot is merely something on which to hang the interactions of the couples in the story.