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The Ghost Is Here
THEATER REVIEW
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2012-01-18

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Playwright: Kobo Abe, translated by Donald Keene. At: Vitalist Theatre of Chicago at the Storefront, 66 E. Randolph Dr. Phone: 312-742-8497 or www.dcatheater.org; $25. Runs through: Feb. 19

Maybe you can't take it with you, but in the Japanese village of Kitahama, plenty of people will gladly do it for you. Army veteran Fukagawa Keisuke simply wants to raise start-up funds to publicize the story of how he came to be haunted by the ghost of a fellow G.I. for whose death he blames himself. After he meets professional con-artist Oba Sankichi, currently on the run from the law, a plan is hatched: they will create a picture file of deceased citizens, enabling Fukagawa's spectral sidekick to locate, literally, any lost souls, who can then be reunited with their loved ones.

Oh, but there's a catch. Grieving relatives wanting to reclaim their pawned mementos discover that the return price of the portraits is considerably higher. It doesn't stop there, either—since (as the local newspaper mogul observes) Capital attracts capital, and "Mister Ghost" is soon petitioned for medical advice, speaking engagements, philanthropic endorsements, even a run for the office of mayor. A journalist is skeptical of this invisible celebrity (who speaks only through Fukagawa, his "interpreter"), as is Sankichi's daughter, puzzled by the craze for necrophilic consumer goods over practical expenditures. In the meantime, for anyone willing to champion the dead among us, the money just keeps rolling in.

Novelist/playwright Kobe Abe's aesthetic has been compared to that of Kafka and Beckett, but it's the, um, ghost of Bertolt Brecht that hangs most heavily over Donald Keene's translation of this 1957 satire on post-war delusion and free-market rapacity—notwithstanding its decidedly un-Brechtian happy ending for everyone, whether their values lie in truth, love or lucre. Vitalist Theatre director Jaclynn Jutting also departs from stereotypical conventions surrounding Asian culture to conjure a vivid-hued panorama of a country undergoing globalization, populated by amoral characters eager to embrace the new risk-taking economy.

An athletic ensemble—ed by Jamie Vann and Edgar Miguel Sanchez, respectively, as the swaggering Sankichi and meek Fukagawa—maintains a sprint-speed pace, even when breaking with fourth-wall restrictions to address pithy asides to the audience. The dazzling decor scrambles samisen music with American jazz, Dior-styled frocks and three-piece suits with unisex kimonos. Shocking-pink telephones glow in the gloom of bombed-out buildings and sexy mannequins model burial fashions. Whoever thought the funeral industry could be so much fun?


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