By Julia Izumi; Directed by Ann Noling
Produced by Rachel Christiansen and The Brewing Dept.
Part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 8.23.16
VENUE #8: WOW Café, 59-61 East 4th Street
by Aileen Lambert on 8.13.16
Julia Izumi in Meet Murasaki Shikibu Followed by Book-Signing, and Other Things. Photo by Justin McCallum.
BOTTOM LINE: Meet Murasaki Shikibu Followed By Book-Signing and Other Things is part stand-up routine and part critique of literature and culture, filtered through a re-imagining of the first novelist in the world.
The setting is a bookstore. A very shabby, probably struggling, bookstore. We are first introduced to the manager of this bookstore, a timid Grace Oberhofer in comically round glasses, who gives a long curtain speech before introducing the lady of the hour. But long is not necessarily out of place here—this is an event for the woman who wrote the first novel ever, a tome over a thousand pages long, divided into fifty-four chapters, and titled The Tale of Genji.
But even when one takes the length of that novel into consideration, the play Meet Murasaki Shikibu… takes what feels like a long time to accomplish what it sets out to do, and exactly what it sets out to do is not entirely clear. The audience is treated to a rambling conversation between Lady Murasaki (played by playwright Julia Izumi) and the nameless Bookstore Manager, as one attempts to learn more about the piece of literature that changed the world, and the other does everything within her power to distract from the fact that she does not seem to know much about Japan at all. But that detail is not necessarily a spoiler—when your ancient Japanese guest of honor seems to know more about Taylor Swift than she does about her literary contemporaries, you begin to wonder why a certain bookstore manager cannot seem to recognize this same curiosity as quickly as you did.
On the other hand, the play offers some truly witty moments, mostly when referring specifically to Japanese culture. Lady Murasaki’s opening monologue is a rant on the absurdity that the numbers “eleven” and “twelve” are not instead “oneteen” and “twoteen”—a clever and discrete way to foreshadow that our Lady Murasaki might not be everything she says she is, because in Japanese, “eleven” and “twelve” are indeed “oneteen” and “twoteen.” However, these are details that might be lost on those who aren't familiar with Japanese.
But then again, perhaps that is the point. American ethnocentrism often wipes away nuanced details about other cultural perspectives, and it is only when we listen and respect that we are able to give the proper reverence to those who deserve to be remembered.
(Meet Murasaki Shikibu Followed by Book-Signing, and Other Things plays at VENUE #8: WOW Café, 59-61 East 4th Street, through August 23, 2016. The running time is 1 hour 30 minutes. Performances are Fri 8/12 at 5; Sun 8/14 at 7; Wed 8/17 at 4:45; Sat 8/20 at 9:45; and Tue 8/23 at 2:15. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more information visit meetmurasakishikibu.com.)
Meet Murasaki Shikibu Followed by Book-Signing, and Other Things is by Julia Izumi. Directed by Ann Noling. Scenic Design is by Stephen Davan. Lighting Design is by Scot Giancelli. Sound Design is by Brady Pierce. Choreography is by Hannah Garner. Costumes are by Emily R. Bono. Press Representative is Diana Levy. Graphic Design is by Sam Horvath. Stage Manager is Tor Rametta. Produced by Rachel Christiansen and The Brewing Dept.
The cast is Julia Izumi and Grace Oberhofer.