Review: ‘Enjoy’ at Coho

Japan's "freeter" generation struggles to define itself.

“Don’t lump me in with someone who thinks they can express their feelings with words.”

This offhand remark in the fourth act could be the crux of Enjoy, Toshiki Okada’s Japanese play about struggling millennials working part-time at a comic book shop.

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Dramaturg Laurence Kominz shares a rather vital (and fun) fact: Japan has a word for “hipster” that’s also a bit like “freeloader”—“freeter.” It refers to young adults working part-time service jobs, implying that they have more freedom than corporate staff, or at least more free time. The subtext, of course, is that since freeters make less money, they also require more free stuff in order to survive.

Enjoy‘s characters represent this demographic, and though the word is never uttered in the script, their plight is self-evident. Some live rent-free with their parents; all routinely contend with homeless peers trying to use their workplace as a free pit-stop. The ganglial split-narrative that unfolds within their work and love lives emphasizes their dependence simply by factoring it into the daily choices they face. Can Shimizu (the affable Jim Vadala) move in with his girlfriend? No, apparently they can’t afford it. Will Misuno greet his childhood friend who wanders into the shop? No, he’s too ashamed that his friend has become a businessman while he remains a janitor.

These dilemmas, larger than the people, unfold in the shadow of a Shinjuku subway stop, well represented by Christopher L. Harris’s backdrop that’s also larger than the stage. Industrially bland surfaces are pierced by crisscrossing arrows and cluttered with overlapping signs, an outward manifestation of the characters’ conflicting impulses about which way to go.

In keeping with this theme, actors take brief turns in contemporary dance routines, batting their heads back and forth with their hands, taking and breaking “Thinker” poses, pushing mops. Their movement lacks attack and integration into the storyline, but this could easily be by design. Anyway, the show’s subway and retail store environs feel slightly more believable when you catch a little of this movement in the corner of your eye.

Meanwhile, the characters’ effort to verbalize their feelings is riddled with false starts, shrugs, and asides. “That’s, like, maybe a little not totally right either, right?” is one such actual line. Okada’s original text must contain a lot of the Japanese slang equivalent of “like,” or translator Aya Ogawa wouldn’t have leaned so hard on the word in the rewrite. But “like” holds two functions in American slang: 1) it’s a softening modifier that makes its speaker seem noncommittal, as in “that’s, like, ugly” and 2) it’s what linguists call “quotative,” as in “I was like, ‘What is this?’” Linguists assert that this use of “like” allows speakers to more directly depict a character when retelling a story.

Which brings us to another of Enjoy‘s uncanny quirks: actors character-swap throughout the story, only credited in the program as “Actor 1, Actress 4,” and so on. One minute, Misuno’s ex-girlfriend (the smoldering Anne Sorce) is explaining her breakup to a friend (the indomitable Tai Sammons). But in the next breath, she’s become Misuno himself (who’s played at other points by the deadpan Sean Doran), and her friend has become her. This constant deck-shuffle is disorienting, and less deft acting would’ve made it impossible to follow. Still, it serves a greater purpose: forging solidarity and empathy among characters whose moves are otherwise as fleeting and diffuse as subway trains. It also underlines a key predicament of a part-time workforce: employees are considered interchangeable and easily replaced. In either light, these characters are, as the saying goes, all in this together.

Apparently there’s a point when freeters’ aimless lifestyle abruptly loses its appeal: the age-30 meridian. Comic book store employees over 30 are so stereotyped and disdained by their younger coworkers that one (Matt Deickman as the self-effacing Kawakami) contemplates suicide. All three (played by Dieckman, Doran, and the beatific Heath Hyun Houghton) lust after their 22-year-old female coworker (the fresh-faced Corey Maier) with vampiric desire. Her youth—they struggle to explain—will bring a reprieve from responsibility to any man over 30 who woos her. Shimizu’s girlfriend (the graceful Brenan Dwyer), also over 30, clings to her younger man, fretting over her weight and their inability to cohabitate. A theater-age audience (read: 90% over 30) must decide whether such ruminations expose the characters’ short-sightedness, or decry their own decrepitude. I propose the former; these characters—as we’ve established—literally don’t know what they’re talking about.

Unorthodox as they may be, Okada’s dramatic devices each serve a plausible purpose, and once compiled and expertly dispatched, they create the intended impression: of a generally well-meaning but inarticulate generation, coasting uneasily in a slipstream.

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A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury
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2 Responses.

  1. maggie smith says:

    misspelled actors name. reads “Vandala” should read “Vadala.”

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