The first act begins in medieval Japan. A married woman and her lover, both in kimonos and lots of hair, are making love “for the last time” and singing to each other at the top of their lungs.
This sets up a fast forward to the next scene, which is set in New York in 1951. A married couple have just seen “Rashomon,” the film by Akira Kurosawa that, you will remember, involves a rape and a murder in a forest in medieval Japan, followed by four conflicting eyewitness accounts of the crimes. Kurosawa built his film from two stories written by Rynosuke Akutagawa, and these stories serve as the foundation of Michael John LaChiusa’s musical, “See What I Wanna See,” currently having its West Coast premiere at The Blank Theatre in Hollywood after a run at the Public Theater in New York.
So, to return to our married couple. As they wander through Central Park they are accosted by a thief who rapes the wife and murders the husband. Or does he?
Then back to Japan where the two lovers are still saying goodbye.
And forward to New York in the “early 21st century” where a priest is having a crisis of faith which he confesses to his much-loved Communist/atheist aunt. Then as he wanders through Central Park he encounters three other modern-day characters who are also a little iffy about God and faith. And so he decides to stage a miracle.
Kurosawa made of these stories a classic film. LaChiusa just makes them confusing. According to Director Daniel Henning, however, there are definite threads that tie everything together. One, obviously, concerns “truth.” And since truth is dependent upon one’s own personal perspective, the play questions what is absolute truth.
Another “thread” is faith and belief. As the priest says as he is setting up his miracle, “If you have enough faith, anything you believe becomes possible.”
Since this version of the Japanese story is a musical, the playwright has composed the lyrics and libretto as well, as he has done for many of his plays. This music, however, is not something you’re going to whistle as you leave the theater. While some of it is quite beautiful, it is atonal and operatic — sort of like Andrew Lloyd Weber on acid. Fortunately for LaChiusa, the cast consists of five excellent singers: Doug Carpenter, Jason Graae, Lesli Margherita, Perry Ojeda and Suzan Solomon. They each have strong voices, but this is not an easy score to sing, and so their performances are occasionally uneven. The five musicians who accompany them, led by David O, are, however, are consistently fine. As is Jason Graae, who is always so terrific in anything he does that I would go to see him if he only stood in the corner and ate a hot dog.
While Jeremy Pivnick provides his usual deft lighting design, Ginnie Ann Held’s almost-nothing set leaves a lot to be desired. So all in all, “See What I Wanna See” is a mixed bag.
You might wanna see something else.
“See What I Wanna See” will continue Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 23. The Blank Theatre is located at 6500 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. Call (323) 661-9827 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.