This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

11Jan/12

UNDER THE RADAR: HOT PEPPER, AIR CONDITIONER, AND THE FAREWELL SPEECH

HOT PEPPER . . . examines an office temp’s imminent departure in absurdist ways (photo by Toru Okada)

Japan Society
333 East 47th St. at First Ave.
Through January 14, $22
212-715-1258
www.japansociety.org
www.undertheradarfestival.com

Built around an office temp’s imminent departure, Toshiki Okada’s Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech is a highly stylized, very funny three-part absurdist comedy that riffs on Japan’s Generation Y culture and office politics. The sixty-five-minute piece is set in Japan Society’s reconfigured gallery space, with a white table and chairs placed in a corner in front of a white backdrop. In the first section, “Hot Pepper,” three temps are on break, discussing where they should hold a farewell party for fellow temp Erika, whose contract at the company has been terminated early despite her fine knowledge of Excel. One at a time, the temps deliver brief monologues, the man insistent on picking a restaurant from the latest issue of Hot Pepper magazine, one of the women obsessed with motsu hot pot, and the other woman confused as to why three temps and not full-timers have been put in charge of the party. As they make their points, they walk around the small set in awkward, carefully choreographed gestural movements, with different-colored lights casting shadows on the walls behind them, their words forming a rhythmic pattern. In the second part, “Air Conditioner,” a pair of full-time workers get into a conversation about the office temperature (a metaphor for the office temps), the woman concerned with how cold it always is. “I mean, 23°C is like, it’s the middle of summer, OK, 23°C is ridiculous, don’t you think?” she says. “I’m seriously totally freezing and like, every day is like this hellish ordeal, the state I’m living in, like, my desk is, where I sit is pretty much right in front of the air conditioner, the air blows right into my face, like on my forehead, like, I’m in the situation all day long where I can’t get any work done at all, I’m miserable, like what am I doing here at work, it’s a really miserable feeling, you know what I’m talking about?” As in the first scene, the employees repeat their assertions over and over, rambling on and on about the same thing, echoing what often happens in a work environment. But whereas they all have very specific points to make, Erika really rambles on in the play’s conclusion, “The Farewell Speech,” in which she gives a wonderfully disjointed good-bye speech to the other workers, words spilling out of her in a stream-of-consciousness eruption of nearly manic proportions. Performed by Okada’s chelfitsch Theater Company (a play on the word “selfish”), which was last at Japan Society in September 2009 with Five Days in March, the show features Taichi Yamagata, Riki Takeda, Mari Ando, Saho Ito, Kei Namba, and Fumie Yokoo as the office workers, an engaging group of very different personalities. Performed in Japanese with English subtitles, the charming Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech continues at Japan Society through January 14 as part of the Under the Radar festival.

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