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Friday, May 28, 2010

'Gas' event asks big questions

Special to The Japan Times

Playwright Jason Maghanoy burst to prominence in the Canadian theater world in 2007 with his maiden offering, "Gas," about the Iraq War, which questioned the meaning of democracy and freedom in the instant-reaction, life-and-death conditions of live-fire conflict.

In its review, The Toronto Star commented that "Gas" was "anchored by a remarkably assured, powerful script (and) tells the story of five U.S. soldiers fighting the war in Iraq and the war raging within each of them."

After the play went on to win the prestigious MECA Award (Montreal English Critics Award), Maghanoy wrote his second play, "Dust," in 2008. That work, whose subject is the hellish Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, was selected as an Outstanding New Play and Production by Now, Canada's leading culture and entertainment magazine.

Maghanoy, a Canadian of Filipino origin, talked recently about these two Iraq War plays in an interview with Now, saying, "Thoughts of people back home keep the soldiers going, but they stay alive in this awful place because of brotherhood and loyalty to their fellow fighters . . . Even when it seems perverse, they have to create new relationships to survive, to hold onto each other — though terrible things can happen as a result."

Under the title "Baghdad no Heishitachi" ("Soldier in Baghdad") the Tokyo-based People Theater Company is now presenting "Gas" as its special program commemorating its 30th anniversary. Mutsumi Morii, the company's 71-year-old founder and director — who also heads the International Department at the Japan Directors Association (JDA) — will direct the play with Japanese actors.

As this production is sure to pose deep questions about some awful things going on in today's world, however, Morii also plans related events in Tokyo and Kyoto.

Maghanoy is visiting Japan for this occasion, and will hold a reading session of "Gas" and give a lecture (in English, but translated). The JDA, meanwhile, will stage a symposium titled "Questioning Whether Theater Can Depict the Current World or Not." This will feature several leading Japanese dramatists, including Eri Watanabe, Chika Kato, Kenzo Kimura and Toyoshi Yoshihara, together with Maghanoy and Guy Sprung, a Canadian theater and film director who is Artistic Director of Infinitheatre in Montreal. This mix will surely make for hot debates regarding contemporary theater in today's world.

"Baghdad no Heishitachi" runs till May 31 at Theater X (Cai), a 3-min. walk from JR Ryogoku Station. Tickets are ¥2,500-¥4,000. For more details, call People Theater on (042) 371-4992 or visit peopletheater.moo.jp Readings of "Gas" with a lecture by the playwright will be held June 1 at Geino Kadensha in Shinjuku, Tokyo, and June 3 at Kyoto Art Center. The theater symposium will be held on June 2 in Geino Kadensha in Tokyo and June 4 at Kyoto Art Center. For more details about Tokyo events, call the Japan Directors Association on (03) 5909-3074 or visit www.geidankyo.or.jp For Kyoto events, call Kyoto Art Center on (080) 4025-2202 or visit www.kac.or.jp Readings, lectures and symposiums will be held in both Japanese and English.

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