Modern office life has been a source of humor and consternation for decades, featured in everything from novels like Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and Joseph Heller's Something Happened to TV series like The Office and the comic strip Dilbert. Award-winning Japanese writer-director Toshiki Okada gives us his take on the subject in the movement-theater work Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech. The show is presented Sept. 28 and 29 by the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater.
Performed by Okada's chelfitsch Theater Company, the show combines the loosely related and reworked versions of 2004's Air Conditioner (Cooler) and 2009's Hot Pepper with a new section, the Farewell Speech. The tripartite work premiered in Berlin, in 2009. For its Pittsburgh premiere, a cast of six, speaking in Japanese with English supertitles, couple their dialogue with dance-like movement choreographed by Okada. It's an unusual and funny theater experience that is Monty Python-esque in its absurdity, and brilliant in the nuances the movement adds to the dialogue.
"I've been trying to figure out the relationship between movement and spoken text on the stage," says Okada. "As a result, the movements I have found are dance-like. I made them especially exaggerated for this piece."
Set in an office break room and using music by John Coltrane, Stereolab and John Cage, the 70-minute work follows a group of low-level Generation Y office workers, capturing their malaise in the face of an economic downturn.
In part one, three temp workers try to plan a going-away party for a fourth (named Erika) whose contract was cut short. They use Japanese magazine Hot Pepper for ideas, but soon their thoughts drift toward their own futures and going-away parties.
Part two follows two full-time workers discussing the office air-conditioning. One thinks it is too cold; the other wants to complain to the police about someone tampering with the thermostat.
Part three finds Erika, from part one, giving a rambling and hysterical farewell speech to her co-workers, who can do nothing but listen politely.
"I made the piece when the problem of mistreating temporary workers in Japan was becoming serious," says Okada. "While exaggerated, these are typical people struggling with a difficult labor situation."