In a metallic, soundproof house, a family is fighting about who must cancel their plans to look after their pregnant dog at home instead. The father, Bo (Lilo Baur) is the technology-adverse, stern “boomer” with a secret childlike side. Pickle, their daughter (Glyn Pritchard), plays up the millennial stereotype with a phone in her hand and a penchant for tapas. The mother, Boo (Hideki Noda) is the older parent in her “wanting-to-be-hip” stage, completing the cast of caricatures that make up this farcical family.
Simply put, on paper, Hideki Noda’s “One Green Bottle” is the stuff of classic sitcoms: it has a silly conflict that lends itself to laughably ridiculous arguments, failed deception and perhaps some physical comedy. This play has all that and more — “more” meaning that soon enough, the plot ceases to be a romp and takes a hard turn for the weird.
At the risk of spoiling the twist, there’s an apocalyptic conspiracy cult involved. Ah, don’t worry, knowing about it doesn’t make or break the show. You’re not going to see it coming. It’s a jarring plot point either way, one of many disparate elements that all make for a chaotic production that lacks a cohesive thread. An “Et tu, Brutus” riff happens within 10 minutes of a mansplaining quip. Slow-mo and double-time fighting sequences happen in equal (and equally cartoonish) parts between normally-paced scenes. And did I mention that everyone is cast against gender?
If anything, the cohesive theme among everything is that there’s no deep reason behind anything, and the play is aware of that. (Fitting, I guess, for a play in which a potential apocalypse looms.) Bo is a classical Japanese performer, and his quip that he often does things on “theatrical impulse” is a nod to his (well, her) true identity an actor onstage, destroying his “home” and dramatically running amok because it’s theater, so why not. But the sudden apocalyptic twist undermines this theme, if the whole point is that not every dramatic situation needs to have life-altering implications. “One Green Bottle” is at its best when Boo, Bo and Pickle are simply playing up their caricatures and clearly having a good time doing it. Those caricatures are still trite and overdone, and their clownish physical comedy might not be everyone’s type of humor (it’s personally not mine), but the pure, shallow comedy is better than the sudden spiral into universal doom. There’s enough “doom” when the characters act like missing a concert or tapas is the end of the world.
I usually anticipate the moment where a character drops the show’s title in one of their lines, especially when the title’s significance isn’t obvious. But by the time they uttered “One Green Bottle” during a variation on “99 bottles of beer on the wall,” we’d already gone through five scenes of existential despair, and I found myself instead anticipating the end of the world, if it must come — or at least a resolution. I never thought I’d say that.
- By Hideki Noda
- Directed by Hideki Noda
- Translated by Will Sharpe
- Music performed by Genichiro Tanaka
- Cast includes: Hideki Noda, Lilo Baur, Glyn Pritchard
- La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, New York
- Until 8 March 2020