Review by David Walters

This self-effacing semi-autobiographical Zoom play is a peek into the maturing of an artist that self-examines notoriety, faded passion, childhood heroes, fear, disillusion, and the process of an artist.  

And you can experience all of this without even leaving home.

Faced with having to write a play for a U.S. audience, a young respected Japanese playwright (Toshiki Okada) honestly lays out his confusion and fear with the task, entering into it through the window of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden as his common ground to be able to reach American theatergoers.  

Thoreau was a hero to the young man, his water and air, and Walden was the only book he had, re-reading it over and over and over again.  The personal declaration of independence, self-reliance, and spiritual discovery exhibited in the book touched the soul of the burgeoning artist.  Though he had no desire to emulate Thoreau’s year-and-a-half social experiment (there is much doubt on the self-reliance aspect that probably didn’t occur on Walden Pond), Okada gets the chance to, as his older self, address Thoreau and try to understand his current concerns of responsibility and self-reliance and how it relates to modern Japanese society that has lied to him during the recent calamities that have befallen the country.

Several actors get to play many parts, identified by the helpful name titles on Zoom.  There is the younger and older Okada, his manager, Thoreau, two rabbit puppets that play out his parents, and an acquaintance that links the self-reliance of Walden with modern-day hunter-gatherers in Tokyo, Bjork and Bob Dylan. 

The journey is one of seeing if, since his early Walden days and currently living under the burden of expectation, he’s become a condescending, elitist person as he’s matured.  This exploration into his past challenges his present self and his compunction that in order to change the world for the better one can’t help but become arrogant.  His fear though is that this attitude will only allow him to be a spectator and not a true participant in the world.

The play was originally commissioned by Pig Iron in 2010 and had several iterations culminating in the current Zoom version.  Dan Rothberg’s superb direction utilizes the benefits and capitalizes on the restrictions of the Zoom format and presents the play in a compelling and honest way, allowing the essence of the writing to shine.  You will be thinking about what you saw and heard long after you’ve signed off for the evening.

Please see the Pig Iron website for showtimes here.  Last performance is September 25th.

Zero Cost House (for Zoom) is two hours long with one five minute intermission. The seven performers will be beaming in LIVE from their homes in Philadelphia and New York.

 Written by Toshiki Okada, translated by Aya Ogawa, adapted by Dan Rothenberg and Pig Iron

 Directed by: Dan Rothenberg

With: Will Brill, Maiko Matsushima, Mary McCool, Aigner Mizzelle, Alex Torra, Saori Tsukada and Dito van Reigersberg

 Design Consultants: Visual: Maiko Matsushima, Sound: Rucyl Frison

Stage Manager: Adam Swez, Sound Operator: Jacob Gilbert, Dramaturgy: Alexandra Tatarsky