The conversations of Japanese theater troupe Chelfitsch are repetitive, mundane and awkward. They are also spellbinding.
In three related vignettes (presented in Japanese with easy-to-follow supertitles), the cast captures the everyday annoyances and absurdities of modern office life. Employing the stylized choreography for which Chelfitsch is known—movements simultaneously balletic and robotic—the six actors give voice to the worst of our internal monologues, those circular and jumbled arguments that ricochet through our brains. Accompanied by a percussive score and layered, colorful lights, it’s a somewhat exhausting performance, but also an honest and very funny one.
In Hot Pepper, the first vignette, three office temps organize a co-worker’s farewell party. Eschewing standard dialogue, the temps take turns delivering restless monologues. Each repeatedly returns to a different theme: which restaurant to select, how much to spend, whether the temps or the full-timers should be responsible for party prep. They fidget and squirm in ways that rarely relate to their speech, but together the words and the movements create a fascinating, rhythmic pulse.
Air Conditioner finds two permanent employees locked in a conversation about the chilly temperature of their office. But they hardly seem to listen to one another, each droning on about some personal problem. It’s both painful to watch and instantly relatable—who hasn’t had an interminable conversation with a self-absorbed co-worker?
The Farewell Speech is the final vignette, in which the departing worker from Hot Pepper bids goodbye to the office. It’s a ridiculous and drawn-out account of her morning routine, which on that day involves a crushed cicada on her doorstep and a stray cat with an appetite for insects. She also discusses her attachment to her shoes, which she knows are just a pair of simple black pumps—really, she says, she is aware of this—but she has grown to see them as two penguins, between whom she imagines conversations and arguments. Her co-workers respond with polite golf claps.
I’ll admit my attention flagged at times, but when I tuned back in after a few moments, the scenes were where I’d left them. This is not, by its nature, a performance that requires unbroken concentration. And even when the dialogue grew a bit maddening, the actors’ mesmerizing movements—so grand and so gawky—kept pulling me back.
SEE IT: Washington High School, SE Stark St., Between 12th and 14th Ave. 6:30 pm. $20-$25.