Everything is happy and cute in Japan! Or maybe it's just our skewed American perspective that makes it seem like Tokyo is inhabited entirely by cuddly Pokemon characters that fart rainbow sparkles and "royal milk tea"-flavored Pocky snacks. True or not, it certainly can be argued that Japanese pop culture has cornered the market on cracked-out cuteness, a trait that composer-director John Moran and his partner, dancer-choreographer Saori Tsukada, exploit with What if Saori Had a Party? (a.k.a. Saori's Birthday) at Performance Space 122.
A cross between Hello Kitty and Richard Foreman, What if Saori Had a Party? is the latest music-theatre-dance hybrid collaboration between sound-pastiche composer Moran and charismatic mover Tsukada. Evoking the shiny, happy world of an abstracted Japanese children's television program, Tsukada plays a space-age cybernetic version of herself. Hermetically sealed in an invisible bubble, she decides to throw herself a birthday party despite the warnings of an ominous computer voice that sounds remarkably like Stephen Hawking. When the icy Singing Telegram Man (Joseph Keckler) delivers Saori her birthday gift — a baby (Katie Brook) — death and destruction lurk just around the corner.
Moran, a protégé of minimalist music guru Philip Glass, uses spliced sound effects, orchestral synths, and Star Trek-like bleeps to create Saori's sonic architecture. (In his curtain speech, Moran revealed that the score is composed of 300 sounds per minute.) Equally precise and rigorous, Tsukada lip-synchs to her own prerecorded Japanese dialogue as she combines meticulous gesture movement with elements of mime and clowning.
But though the team scintillates with the music and dance components of their performance hybrid, the theatre bit is sadly lacking. It isn't long before Saori abandons ironic cross-cultural inventiveness in favor of trite downtown weirdness and lame metaphors. By the time a synthesized voice intones platitudes about death and isolation, it's pretty clear that the party's over.
Presented by and at Performance Space 122,
150 First Ave., NYC.
Oct. 23-Nov. 4. Tue.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 6:30 p.m.
(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com or www.ps122.org.