The Dark Inn.
Written and directed by Kuro Tanino. Dramaturgy by Junichiro Tamaki, Yukiko Yamaguchi and Mario Yoshino. Performed by Mame Yamada. Sohichi Murakami, Ichigo Lida, Kayo Ishikawa, Atsuko Kubo, Bobumi Hidaka and Hayato Mori. Niwa Gekidan Penino Collective. OzAsia Festival. Her Majesty’s Theatre. October 3 and 4 2017.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
|The Dark Inn directed by Kuro Tanino. Photo by Shinsuke Sugino|
Deep in the recesses of the human psyche dwells the misery of human anguish. A Japanese hot spring inn, secluded far in the rocky countryside becomes a metaphor for human failing and ignorance, the first of the twelve Buddhist Nidanas. The Dark Inn harbours the mystery of foreboding, revealing the disturbing nature of human misfortune. Profound in its seeming ordinariness, playwright and director Kuro Tanino’s vision of social and psychological disintegration presents a grim image of unfortunate characters, trapped within their own destiny. The Dark Inn is a riveting, absorbing and mesmerizing drama that lingers long after the performance ends. Images of six characters in search of meaning, and strangely brought together in the remote inn, are indelibly printed on the memory as the drama unfolds to reveal the flotsam and jetsum of society.
A dwarf arrives with his son with an unsigned invitation to present their puppet show. They encounter an old woman, whose dreams remain forever unfulfilled, a blind man, desperately hoping that the healing powers of the spring will restore his sight, two unlikely geishas and a zumo built mute, condemned to a life of servitude. The gloom of hopelessness descends upon their unfortunate lives, bound together in the inn by a common affliction of misfortune. They live out their predestined existence with no hope of release. It is a destiny to be shattered when the proposed bullet train route will pass by the inn on its route to a new future that will cast aside those left behind in the inn’s location in what is known as Hell Valley.
Performed in Japanese with English surtitles on two side screens, The Dark Inn is a morality tale, played out on a remarkable set that revolves to reveal the reception area to the inn, a bedroom for the male occupants below and an upstairs level for the old woman and the two geishas and a third lower level that houses the hot spring and change room, supervised by the mute. The realism of the design and the meticulous and detailed construction of the timber framed inn present a striking authenticity to the reality played out upon the stage. Tanino’s direction is measured in its deliberate intensity, intriguing in its progression from the introductory mystery to the uncomfortable meeting of the characters to the comical interlude with the drunken geishas and the horrifying performance of the grotesque puppet show.
There is no salvation for the characters doomed to live out their futile existence. Ironically, the dwarf and his musician son leave to discover success with their puppet performance. For the other characters, they remain the victims of Fate’s fickle fortune, the Unfortunates, destined to live out their lives as society’s outcasts. Tanino’s ensemble creates a reality as unnerving as the dispirited lives they portray. The performances are superb, laden with nuance, resonating with truth and engrossing in their comment on human nature. Every moment is captured with sublime expression of futility, longing and despair. The drunken abandonment of the geishas contrasts with the agonized voyeurism of the silent servant or the sickening vomiting of the blind Matsuo. There can be no joy in the inevitability of their doomed existence.
In Adelaide for only two performances at the OzAsia Festival, The Dark Inn is a rare theatrical experience where the past and the future collide with irreconcilable consequence and portentous foreboding.