THE ROOM NOBODY KNOWS (FringeArts): Put your secret emotions, dangerous illusions here

top: Momoi Shimada, Ikuma Yamada, Taeko Seguchi; bottom: Ichigo Iida.
top: Momoi Shimada, Ikuma Yamada, Taeko Seguchi; bottom: Ichigo Iida.

Enter the world of Japanese Japanese theater company Niwa Gekidan Penino: claustrophobic, hallucinatory, voyeuristic, surreal.

Niwa is the Japanese word for “garden.” For over a decade Kuro Tanino has been turning his cramped Tokyo apartment (“the arc,” as his actors and collaborators call it) into a garden of sensual disorientation, with surrealist installations and the creepy, psychological dramas they inspire and host.

Tanino, director and playwright of all Niwa Gekidan Penino’s work, got his degree in psychiatry as a fallback for his theatrical career, and his plays, rife with sexual burdens and unfulfillable desires, are based in that parallel career.

THE ROOM NOBODY KNOWS, Tanino’s American premier opening at FringeArts tonight, tells the story of two brothers living together in one house. The younger brother, a perpetually failing student, plans the other’s birthday party while fetishizing his success and beauty. Hooded apparitions, a pig and a sheep which speak in cartoonish voices, help him to plan the festivities.

Taeko Seguchi
Taeko Seguchi

And though the set—cramped and boxlike, as a carryover from its original setting in Tanino’s apartment—is full of penis statues, when you look at the gorgeously detailed images you see that this isn’t all that’s going on. The script is scatological and provoking, but that’s not all that Tanino owes his success to. His work is celebrated for its innovation and its daring approach to the darker side of the human psyche. He has been called “monomaniacal” for his nearly clinical perfectionism, staying up all night (the sets are built in his apartment, after all) tweaking the visual components. During the day he sculpts his performers. “One actor,” says a program note for a European production, “likens Tanino’s rehearsals to military drills, since the director makes actors repeat their performances without explaining how they can improve, until he finds them satisfying.”

Like Philly’s own Pig Iron, Tanino creates immersive physical and visual vocabularies which are completely his own, and which belong uniquely to his environment in Tokyo. This perfectionism promises an immersive and highly idiosyncratic audience experience.

Tanino offers some advice to the uncertain: “Please build a house and have a room in your mind somewhere. Put your secret emotions, curiosities you can’t tell anyone, and your dangerous illusions there. The room will instantly be filled, almost to the point of exploding. Lock your room then, and open the door with the key after you see the show.”

You can get a better idea of Tanino’s scope of work here or at Niwa Gekidan Penino’s website.

THE ROOM NOBODY KNOWS is a risky, outlandish addition to FringeArts’ year-round programming. See it this weekend only. January 30-February 1,

Curious preview video for THE ROOM NOBODY KNOWS.

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