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Thursday, April 6, 2006

Soylent green is now money

Rene Pollesch's exploration of love and sex

Special to The Japan Times

Written in 2003 by German playwright Rene Pollesch, "Soylent Green ist Menschenfleisch, sagt es allen weiter! (Soylent Green is people, tell everybody!)" is like a great sand dune full of hidden diamonds. Four actors -- three anonymous women and a man -- speak in monologues to each other and the audience about money, love and sex through microphones. A film of the action is projected on a screen, sometimes catching the actors off stage sniffing cocaine, singing karaoke, roller skating. What links the fragmentary episodes is the abusive language in which fundamental views of society, and love's place in it, are darkly embedded.

News photo
Pollesch (right) at his Tokyo production of "Soylent Green ist Menschenfleisch, sagt es allen weiter!"

A contemporary dramatist from Germany, the 43-year-old Pollesch has just spent a month collaborating on the play with Japanese actors from theatre project tokyo (tpt). Before the opening night, he spoke to The Japan Times about the work, what some critics have termed his "postdrama" theater and his experience working in Japan for the first time.

It is difficult to understand clearly what "Soylent Green" is about, as there is no story line and lots of monologues.

The text seems to be so complicated, but it is actually very concrete and it's not abstract at all. It applies directly to our daily lives. Normally, actors are fictional characters in a play, but this play is not written for such fictional characters. It's written to analyze the actors themselves and to analyze our own society. The actors should not try to fit into a certain role which was labeled in the text .

The play talks a lot about a gap between traditional bourgeoisie values and new capitalistic values, and for example in Japan right now, there is a discord between traditional society and one very progressive, aggressive newcomer, Horie [former Livedoor CEO Takafumi Horie]. In such a bourgeois society, trust is regarded as a virtue, while someone like Horie appears to have felt such a virtue was not necessary to achieve his individual ends. . . . So there is a new reality, which is related to the market place, and everybody there has to be aggressive and competitive.

I was interested in the porn industry as a way to examine this social contradiction, so I used a famous 1997 Hollywood film about porn, "Boogie Nights," for some episodes in the play. In a bourgeois society, everywhere is full of love, and love can make a lot of money, such as through love stories or love songs, etc. But, in porn, there is no love, it's just sex. In a bourgeois society, sex is always combined with love, but I wanted to cut that usual relationship of sex and love here.

I think you can combine love with money, but in a bourgeois society, it isn't allowed to combine these two. If you allow the relationship, then you have to pay money to the mother for raising children, though she does it from her love.

So, while everybody says love is the most important thing in the world, actually it's not because it's not valued as important. Horie knows what is most important: It's money. But society can't say that, cause if it did then bourgeois society would not exist anymore, even though this is the reality.

Did you make any changes especially for Japanese audiences?

No. Theater for me is not a service business. I want to communicate with audiences but I don't just want to give them what they might expect; it's not my approach. Instead, I have suggestions for the audience, and me and the actors present them on the stage.

But then, when the curtains open, maybe we can communicate with the audience, or sometimes they do not understand at all. That's a risk. In fact I don't think the audience will understand it all the time, because it's very complex and it should remain complex. I am not Japanese, so of course the performance I directed is different from the ones people normally see in Japan.

Is your style of direction normal in the German theater world?

No. It's my individual way. Making drama in Germany is normally very conventional. Other German theaters are usually representational-style theaters. They see a certain conflict in society and make a play about it and put it on the stage and they believe they can communicate with the audiences in that way. But I don't believe in that kind of theater; I don't believe in such representational theater. The actors should not fit into a role or a text; instead they have to effuse the text.

What is the hottest subject for you these days?

People used to want cities to have solidarity and be places of cooperation, but nowadays they are places of intense competition. Consequently, our ideal image of a city and the reality are different; a huge gap has opened up between the petty bourgeois idea of capitalism and the actual aggressive reality of the capitalistic, competitive world. That is the most interesting issue for me.

"Soylent Green ist Menschenfleisch, sagt es allen weiter!" runs to April 16 at the Benisan Pit Theatre, a 5-minute walk from Morishita Station on the Oedo and Toei Shinjuku subway lines, or an 8-minute walk from JR Ryogoku Station. For more details, call tpt at (03) 3635-6355 or visit www.tpt.co.jp

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