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Waterfall, the Musical - Elf M. Sternberg
Waterfall, the Musical
Omaha, Kouryou-chan and I all went out to the 5th Avenue Theater to watch Waterfall, a play about the way Thailand and Japan interacted before and after World War II, all told through the lens of an ambitious young Thai named Noppon who joins the Thai civil service before the war and travels with the Thai ambassador to Japan. The ambassador has a beautiful, much younger, and American wife; their relationship is one of distinct differences in age and culture, and Noppon is just the man to come into that tension and make things horribly worse. Noppon loves all things American and is instantly attracted to this woman, and his actions drive a deep wedge between a husband and wife who desperately love each other but don't know how to communicate and connect.

Waterfall debuted in Los Angeles but was reworked heavily for the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle. The 5th Avenue script is also the script for the Broadway-announced version now currently doing its casting call. If this is the script, well, I don't have high hopes for it.

The acting at the 5th Avenue was amazing, and the set production is visually lush and gorgeous. With one exception, the play uses only a few pieces of furniture amongst a shifting array of screens onto which settings are projected; it's this projection technology that steals a lot of the show, as it's beautiful and convincing and almost makes you want to suspend your disbelief.

This story is handed to the audience as a trumph of one man finding his way in the world and awakening to the possibilities of love and maturity, while suffering heartbreaks along the way. The various songs that are critical of America's cultural and political influence in Japan and Thailand before and after WW2 would have been heavy-handed and possibly seditious in the 1950s, but now they seem trite and obvious to the lefty-leaning audiences in LA, Seattle and New York who will see this play. The brilliant sets and costuming allow the producers to play with racist stereotypes and put the "exoticism of the East" up for display while at the same time dissing anyone who "appropriates with the eye" these same displays.

It doesn't succeed. Overall, it's the character of Noppon who annoys me more than anything else. Played with good cheer by Thai pop (would that be T-pop?) star Bie Sukrit, an actor for whom English is a second language depicting a character for whom English is a second language, Noppon comes across as highly motivated but not terribly bright. His choices are driven by poor principles and the expectation that, as a man, he can get away with those poor choices while the women around him suffer in either silence or ignorance. He betrays his boss, lies by omission to his lover, both of whom die at theatrically convenient moments, and walks into a heroic middle age unselfconscious of the pain left in his wake.

I wanted to like Waterfall. I was dazzled by the production values. But a good play must have a central, guiding theme from beginning to end. If Waterfall has one, it's once we no longer find admirable.

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Current Mood: pensive pensive
Current Music: Phil Collins, In The Air Tonight

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