‘Distant Observer’ merits close inspection

L-R: Samuel Im, Kyle Griffiths, Anastasia Olowin and Claire Buckingham ponder a multitude of identities and motivations. | Photo by Paula Court

BY SCOTT STIFFLER | No fooling: You have until April 1 to see “Distant Observer: Tokyo/New York Correspondence” at La MaMa — and you should. Written by Japanese playwright/director Takeshi Kawamura and American playwright/director John Jesurun over a three-year period via corresponding chapters (10-minute sections in response to the most recent contribution), this “tag, you’re it” technique effectively grounds the proceedings in a realm of chaos and uncertainty that calls to mind our current political climate.

A bloody knife and a bell don’t stay put any longer than, left to right, Kotoba Dan, Kyle Griffiths and Anastasia Olowin. | Photo by Paula Court

Initially pitched to us as the familiar tale of an ex-con trying to start anew, that ground floor premise is built to the hilt, thoroughly upended, and pleasingly perverted. Vexed by everything from a romance gone sour to his murder victim’s score-settling family, our everyman hero (or victim or villain) is soon thrust into a web of intrigue beyond his grasp (or, possibly, of his own design). What’s really going on at that embassy? How did the suicide forest burn down, and might it be repurposed for Olympic glory? Is a tuna cut to ribbons this play’s red herring; and who’s left standing when the ramen is ready to slurp?

Their circumstances constantly change — but Samuel Im as an ex-con, and Anastasia Olowin as his ex are consistently complex. | Photo by Paula Court

Tasked with non-stop shifting of personas, agendas, and set pieces (gauzy curtains separate one side of the audience from the other, and play host to ghostly projections), the top-notch ensemble is as nimble with the wordy, quicksilver script as they are on their feet. From bell-ringing, town crier-like hotfooting to fearless track and field tryouts to prowling the stage in full-on interrogation mode, seldom has there been so much running around by those giving their former lovers, current foes, and potential allies the run-around — making for a “Distant Observer” that merits close inspection. Minor quibble: The constant push and pull of that curtain has the effect of a party host interrupting a conversation’s flow by rearranging the furniture in a room whose aesthetics need no improvement. Far less potent productions might benefit from this sort of visual element — but the words and the deeds and the charismatic players are more than enough to command your attention far beyond the final (sense of closure open to interpretation!) scene.

Through April 1 at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club/Ellen Stewart Theatre (66 E. Fourth St., 2nd Fl., btw. Bowery & Second Ave.). Thurs. through Sat. at 8pm; Sun. at 4pm. Call 212-352-3101 or visit lamama.org for tickets ($25; $20 students/seniors; Ten $10 tickets available every performance on first-come, first-served basis; $1 facility fee on all tickets).

Claire Buckingham and a projection of Samuel Im. | Photo by Paula Court

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