Observing the theater of John Moran and Saori Tsukada is an experience you are not likely to forget. It is innovative, enigmatic and even sometimes irritating, but however you describe it, you end up realizing that one of its essential features, its use of repetition, turns out to be effective by forcing you watch a segment of a scene over and over again. This turns out to be like peeling an onion slowly and always uncovering new layers.
In his introduction, Moran describes his experience in the 1980s as a budding young composer, (but also a member of a religious cult) living in Nebraska, which he tells us is so flat that you can see the curvature of earth on the horizon. He learned that Philip Glass was coming to NEBRASKA, of all places, and set out to stalk him. He called all the local hotels to ferret out where Glass was staying, visited the hotel and had him paged. Glass graciously received him, and in the process met a startling young kid, age 22, with half of his head shaved, who told him he wanted to become Glass’s protégée and write operas. Glass gave Moran his card and told him to pay him a visit if he ever came to New York City.
The next thing Glass knew was that this kid showed up uninvited in New York City on his doorstep expecting to live with him and get mentored 24/7. Well, it didn’t quite work that way, but Moran did benefit from a close association with Glass and produced during the 1990s a number of large theatrical works that appeared at prestigious venues such as Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the American Repertory Theater. After disappearing for a while he reappeared in 2005 having reinvented himself with a new approach to musical theater. What we observed this afternoon was a sample of several of his set theatrical pieces.
One of the most disturbing was a violent monologue giving us a guided tour of the Manson family. The searing anger and resentment seemed to be because all everybody wanted to hear about was “Charlie” and not the cult members’ views on what was wrong with contemporary America.
Seeing Saori, his attractive and charming companion, in action was fascinating, since her highly developed dance and mime skills are beautiful to watch as she acted out various personas in several dramatic skits. She could instantly switch from awkward young Japanese school girl (the kind who shyly puts her hand over her mouth when she smiles) to a blasé girl at a MacDonald’s cash register―”That’ll be 39 cents extra for super-size fries. Thank you. Will the next person please step up to the front of the line!”
The most impressive of the presentations was a monologue by Moran set to the opening aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations while Saori was delivering her own monologue in counterpoint. Halfway through, Moran began to sing a song by Neil Diamond that was perfectly interwoven with the Bach. It was uncanny how this all worked as an effective piece of theater. I later watched this same piece on You Tube and discovered it was assembled and recorded with ”thousands of individual sound effects and edited so that its rhythms and sound effects worked as an effective counterpoint to the theme of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.” In other words, what we were watching at Hidden Valley and what could be seen on You Tube were both totally lip synced by the two performers to the recorded track. This made me suspect that most of the other skits were also lip synced, but it was so cleverly done, the illusion of live presentation was totally convincing.
My only regret was that when it was over, I had to dash back to Carmel for another appointment and missed an opportunity to meet the artists personally and discover what their personalities are like off stage.