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Kuro Tanino’s The Dark Master is a VR treat for the senses (photo © Japan Society)

Japan Society
333 East 47th St.
June 23-28, $45

As the lockdown ends and venues start reopening, theaters are dealing with limited admissions, socially distanced seating, and protocols for the health and safety of the cast and crew. Several companies have come up with unique presentations that feature no performers and a sparse audience. In Simon Stephens’s Blindness, people sit in pods of two inside the Daryl Roth Theatre and listen to the narrative unfold through binaural headphones. In Social! at the Park Avenue Armory, fewer than a hundred people were marched into the Wade Thompson Drill Hall and danced in their own colored circle for nearly an hour as a DJ in the center spun tunes and the disembodied voice of David Byrne offered movement suggestions. For the Byzantine Choral Project’s Icons/Idols: In the Purple Room, two people at a time follow the narrative over their phone as they wander through creepy downstairs rooms at the New Ohio Theatre. And for En Garde Arts’ A Dozen Dreams, pairs make their way across twelve separate installations at the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place, each one containing a dream from a woman playwright.

Japan Society is entering the actorless arena with the latest iteration of writer-director Kuro Tanino’s The Dark Master, running for only twenty-one performances from June 23 to 28, with a maximum of ten people at each show. A sculptor, painter, and former psychiatrist, Tanino (Frustrating Picture Book for Adults, Fortification of Smiles) created the immersive forty-five-minute piece for his experimental theater company, Niwa Gekidan Penino, but they will not be at the East Forty-Seventh St. institution; instead, the story, about the relationship between a Japanese diner and the owner-chef of a restaurant and inspired by an indie manga and first-person video games, takes place through Virtual Reality headsets and headphones, along with live onstage cooking to add smell and taste to hearing and seeing. The work was first presented in 2003 with a full cast and audience and has now been reimagined for the pandemic.

The Dark Master takes place for only ten people at a time at Japan Society (photo © Keizo Maeda)

“Niwa Gekidan Penino generated significant buzz in their 2014 U.S. debut at Japan Society with The Room Nobody Knows,” artistic director Yoko Shioya said in a statement. “With this new presentation, I hope to further their status and reputation in this country. We are extremely happy to welcome audiences back into our building for Kuro’s innovative and immersive in-person VR performance. From its intimate scale to the sensorial nature of the piece — along with its haunting and thrilling plot — this one-of-a-kind theater event seems tailor made for our return to live, onsite theater.” With only 210 total tickets available, you better act fast if you want to experience what should be a wild and special show.

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