Spiky comedy by way of Japan Fringe fest shows Are You Lovin’ It? and Pretty Beast bring satire and social commentary
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This article was published 14/07/2022 (329 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeggers returning to the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival circuit can enjoy two distinctly Japanese shows that masterfully combine seriousness and silliness.
Kazu Kusano’s Pretty Beast and Theatre Group GUMBO’s critically-acclaimed comedy satire, Are You Lovin’ It?, promise to lure the audience into a social commentary while laughing.
Kusano, the mastermind of the one-woman show, has always been the funny girl — a role that has empowered and disempowered her growing up.
“As a survival tool, I got this comedic skill. I became a funny girl,” Kusano said.
“My country is very sexist, like everywhere else in the world, so (being the) funny girl back then was difficult,” Kusano joked.
Kusano was born and raised in Japan. In her 30s, Kusano packed her bags and immigrated to the U.S. to pursue comedy. After working gigs in the restaurant, acting and modelling industry, she made a name for herself in the stand-up comedy scene.
With dozens of awards up her sleeves and a compliment from the late Robin Williams, it’s safe to say that being funny has paid off for Kusano.
Pretty Beast is both a tribute to the funny girls of the world and a dialogue on sexism and mental health. The one-woman show chronicles a rough sketch of Kusano’s experiences growing up in Japan, with her character influenced by an alcoholic father, a schizophrenic mother and “and also this girl… I mean me,” Kusano explained.
The show is semi-autobiographical and, according to reviews, hilarious and devastating. Kusano is able to explore otherwise difficult conversation topics through what she does best: making people laugh.
“All those negative experiences actually made me a happy person because I’m doing what I want to do,” Kusano said.
Hailing from Osaka, Japan, Theatre Group GUMBO’s Are You Lovin’ It? promises 60 minutes of colour, chaos and whimsy.
In what Orlando Weekly described as a “savagely surreal satire of fast-food capitalism,” Kayo Tamura, Ryo Nishihara, Nono Miyasaka of Theatre Group GUMBO entice the audience into a kooky Japanese satire.
The familiar branding of McDonald’s is transformed into a psycho-surrealist fast-food chain called “WacDonalds”. From there, viewers are invited into a world of dark humour and neon chaos that is sure to incite uncontrollable laughter.
Cast member Nishihara described the play as a “dark comedy”, satirizing the American influence on Japanese culture.
“It’s like a hallucinogenic, anime dreamscape,” Adam Prokop, the troupe’s Canadian stage manager said. “It’s kind of melodramatic. It’s kind of over the top.”
“Some people lost their words,” Miyasaka, a cast member and assistant director said.
The comedic, distinctly Japanese satire has been a hit across the U.S. and Canada, with a previous showing at the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival in 2019. The troupe, who are visiting Winnipeg for the first time this week, said they are excited to see how the local audience engages with the show.
“Our show needs audience reaction. We made a show with (the) audience,” Miyasaka said.
“When we were in Edmonton and I was their tech, it was always fun to watch the audience go from resisting the laughter to giving in, becoming part of the show,” Prokop said.
Similar to the neon absurdism of Are You Lovin’ It?, Kusano’s Pretty Beast tests the line between delusion and reality. Kusano encourages the audience to ponder the meaning of normality and notions of common sense.
What connects both shows is not only their references to Japanese culture. Kusano and Theatre Group GUMBO know the power of comedy as a vehicle to critique otherwise serious topics like mental health, overconsumption and sexism.
“With comedy, you can talk about really serious stuff, but also, you can make it funny, and that creates a connection between me and my audience,” Kusano said. “At the miserable moment, we still have a sense of humour, and that kind of releases our stress.”
“With humour, we are more encouraged to talk about it.”
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