“Only a part of what is perceived comes through the senses from the object; the remainder always comes from within.”
—Matthew Luckiesh, Visual Illusions
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Darius Wheeler, a dealer of Asian arts and antiquities.
Setsuko Hearn, an assistant professor of East Asian literature.
John Bell, Darius Wheeler’s assistant.
Claire Tsong, a restorer of Asian artifacts.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr, a free agent.
Owen Matthiassen, the chair of the East Asian Studies Department.
(Darkness. Suspended in the darkness is a hanging scroll. On the scroll is a painting of a Japanese woman in formal pose, Kamakura era, gilt background, a portrait of a lady. In the shadows is Darius Wheeler. As he speaks, he becomes more and more visible.)
Darius Wheeler: True story. This is a true story.
I’m in the middle of the Doi Larng mountain range, no-man’s land between Thailand and Myanmar—
Burma, end of what they call the old Elephant Trail—
Kipling country, used to be
Well, now it’s something else.
I’m talking early eighties, opium in every little village east of Mae Hong Son, opium not even the half of it—sapphires, ivory, pigeon-blood rubies from the Mogok Valley—blackmarket all of it, and you could get a bullet in your brain trying to do business with these people. Some hop-head Palang with an M-16, he just blows you away on the spot, cause he thinks you’re a white devil—
Or a ghost—
(The sound of the shakuhachi flute. Setsuko Hearn is revealed in Heianera kimono, wig, and white face paint. She begins to remove her makeup and her wig.)
Darius Wheeler: Cause these tribal people, they hate ghosts—
Or maybe, maybe he just doesn’t like the look in your eye
A little cultural miscommunication—
And what are you going to do about it, you’re in the middle of what they call the Shan state. There are no maps for this part of the world. You disappear and that’s it, you’re shit out of luck, head on a pole, tiger meat—
Then again, you go in there, and you meet the right people, and maybe, say, you do some business with these people, and maybe, just maybe you come away with something so beautiful, something so incredibly beautiful, something you’d never find, not in a million years on the outside, and if you’re lucky, if you’re smart, you get yourself out of there in one piece. So I’m there with my Lahu guide, feeling lucky, tiny Shan village, waiting for my contact, friend of a friend…
(Darius Wheeler continues to speak. His voice grows fainter, a distant echo.1 The sound of the shakuhachi flute is joined by the sound of drums. Setsuko Hearn is turning. With each turn, a layer of kimono is removed. The music grows louder, the pace grows faster The sound of wooden clappers. Silence. The sound of the shakuhachi flute, alone and unadorned.)
Darius Wheeler: Unbelievable what I saw that night: Song Dynasty temple paintings, Kushan Period Buddhas almost two thousand years old. He had stuff from Angkor Wat, museum quality, objects there’s no way he should’ve had, and I’m thinking, who are you? Who are you? Because the thing was, this was the thing, I knew, as soon I saw it, as soon as I touched it and held it in my hands, I knew it was real. No question in my mind, it was real, and if I had enough money, it was mine.
(The sound of the shakuhachi flute ends. Hikinuki, a Kabuki costume change in which threads are pulled, and the outer kimono falls away, revealing a new costume underneath. Setsuko Hearn is transformed into an urban, late twentieth-century, Western woman. The sound of wooden clappers.)
(Evening. Setsuko Hearn and Darius Wheeler in Wheeler’s loft space. The space is divided by translucent shoji screens. The Kamakuraera painting, the portrait of the woman in formal pose, is prominently featured. Somewhere else in the space, a party in progress. Voices, music.)
Darius Wheeler: Beautiful, isn’t it. Everything else I bought that night, I sold, made out like a bandit. This one I never had the heart to sell.
Setsuko Hearn: Why is that, do you suppose?
Darius Wheeler: I don’t know, call it an appetite for beauty.
Setsuko Hearn: I see.
Darius Wheeler: Is that such a terrible thing to be? Don’t we all gravitate towards beauty? Don’t we all crave beautiful things? It’s second nature, don’t you think. I don’t know that we can help ourselves.
Setsuko Hearn: A philosopher and also quite the renegade.
Darius Wheeler: Oh, I don’t know about that.
Setsuko Hearn: I think you’re being modest, Mr. Wheeler. I’m guessing you’ve had more than your share of adventures in the Orient.
Darius Wheeler: I have some tales to tell.
Setsuko Hearn: I’m sure you do, all kinds of wild and woolly tales.
Darius Wheeler: Very wild, very woolly, yes.
Setsuko Hearn: Let me guess: rickshaws and opium dens. A rendezvous with some shady characters on the back streets of Hong Kong, Chinese Triad types, practioners of Kung Fu. Or perhaps it was on the South China Sea, a foggy night, a sampan full of Malay pirates, inscrutable, ninja-like.
Darius Wheeler: Is it my imagination or are you making fun of me?
Setsuko Hearn: Am I?
Darius Wheeler: You know, I think you are.
Setsuko Hearn: I’m afraid that tales from the Orient, there’s this sort of wilted quality to them.
Darius Wheeler: Ah.
Setsuko Hearn: I’ve offended you.
Darius Wheeler: No, on the contrary. The ridicule, the skepticism, I find it kinda bracing. So tell me, I’m curious: am I the biggest idiot you’ve ever met?
Setsuko Hearn: Let’s just say, you seem to be a man with a weakness for stereotype.
Darius Wheeler: You know, you look very familiar to me. I can’t say from where. Maybe you look like someone else.
Setsuko Hearn: Possibly.
Darius Wheeler: Jakarta? Sidney?
Setsuko Hearn: I’ve never been.
Darius Wheeler: Are you sure?
Setsuko Hearn: Very.
Darius Wheeler: Maybe you have an evil twin.
Setsuko Hearn: Maybe I am an evil twin. People make mistakes, Mr. Wheeler. They misapprehend.
Darius Wheeler: I don’t know why, but I feel as if I know you.
Setsuko Hearn: You don’t. Trust me. We’re perfect strangers.
(The sound of wooden clappers.)
Darius Wheeler: Darius Wheeler.
Setsuko Hearn: Setsuko Hearn.
Darius Wheeler: Please forgive me. I’m being a terrible host. Here I let you just stand there without any kind of refreshment, parched, no doubt. What are you drinking? I have this wonderful plum wine in honor of Utagawa, Very light, very seasonal. The guy probably prefers single malt Scotch, but what the hell. Plum wine? Good stuff…
Setsuko Hearn: All right.
Darius Wheeler: Plum wine it is.
(Darius Wheeler prepares drinks, cracking ice with a pick.)
Darius Wheeler: Somehow I feel like you know a lot more about me than I know about you.
Setsuko Hearn: Funny, I feel that way, too.
Darius Wheeler: So fill me in, Setsuko. Tell me something about yourself.
Setsuko Hearn: There’s nothing really to tell, I’m afraid. My life is very humdrum compared to yours. Very uneventful, very tame.
(Darius Wheeler’s hand slips. A cut.)
Setsuko Hearn: Are you all right?
Darius Wheeler: A little cut. It’s nothing.
Setsuko Hearn: Are you sure?
Darius Wheeler: Yeah, no, it’s fine.
Setsuko Hearn: You know, I actually found your story very entertaining, Mr.Wheeler.
Darius Wheeler: Darius, please, and don’t be kind. I’ll just think you’re feeling sorry for me.
Setsuko Hearn: No, but I did. Truly. It was very, I don’t know, very sort of Hunter S. Thompson meets Apocalypse Now. I mean that in the best possible sense.
Darius Wheeler: Say no more, please. I think I get the picture. (Handing Setsuko Hearn her drink) Dozo.
Setsuko Hearn: Thank you.
(The sound of wooden clappers.)
Setsuko Hearn: (Reproaching the portrait.) This really is, it’s exquisite. I’m guessing what? Kamakura period?
Darius Wheeler: Very good. Takanobu.
Setsuko Hearn: Rings a bell.
Darius Wheeler: Portrait painter. Late twelfth century. Painted on silk. Japanese painting, up to that point, the human face, you know, it just a mask. A line here, a line there, two dots. Takanobu, was after this thing, to make something lifelike. To create this thing that was real. Their eyes, everything that was going on in their eyes. The way the light hits the skin. The shape of mouth. Kampai.
(Darius Wheeler and Setsuko Hearn drink. Light shift. The objects in Wheeler’s loft space are revealed. Objects that look like works of art.)
Setsuko Hearn: Is good. Umeshu.
Darius Wheeler: Yes.
Setsuko Hearn: Ume, it means summer plums. By themselves, they’re bitter, but once they’ve aged in the shochu, the spirits, they become very sweet. It’s really, it’s lovely. Please, I don’t want to keep you from all your other guests.
Darius Wheeler: Don’t worry. I don’t know half the people out there. Trust me, I won’t be missed. So what did you think of the show tonight? What do you think of Utagawa’s work?
Setsuko Hearn: I like it. I like the sensibility. I like the way he mixes Asian and Western forms, the way he deploys classical techniques, and yet his vision is so unconventional, so contemporary in a way— I’m curious: how do you know Utagawa?
Darius Wheeler: I don’t. I’ve never met the man. I’m hosting this little get-together as a favor for an old friend.
Setsuko Hearn: That’s nice of you.
Darius Wheeler: I have my moments. He, like you, is quite a fan.
Setsuko Hearn: And you are not.
Darius Wheeler: No.
Setsuko Hearn: Not Oriental enough for you?
Darius Wheeler: It’s just one white man’s humble opinion.
Setsuko Hearn: You’re a traditionalist.
Darius Wheeler: Let’s just say I have high standards.
( The sound of wooden clappers.)
Setsuko Hearn: (Approaching an art object.) Chinese?
Darius Wheeler: Liao Dynasty. The goddess Guanyin. That’s an Undayana Buddha, eighth-century Korean, Silla Dynasty, gilt bronze. That’s a, that’s a Muromachi ink painting. Sixteenth century, Unkoku school, you can see what they call suiboku, or splashed ink I technique, very unusual, very abstract. I got it at a private auction in Kyoto. No catalogue, no previewing, some of the stuff is in really bad shape, but every so often, you find a gem. I got it for a song. Do you like it?
Setsuko Hearn: Very much.
Darius Wheeler: Here, wait, let me show you, I want to show you something else.
(Darius Wheeler retrieves a jade figure from its case. The sound shakuhachi flute begins.)
Darius Wheeler: Jade. Sung Dynasty era, over nine hundred years old. Very rare. Because the thing about jade, it’s meant to be held, you see, and what it does, it warms to your skin, human touch, it alters the stone, there’s a kind of chemical reaction, it actually changes the color of the stone. With each touch it changes over time, almost imperceptible, impossible to replicate. Very old jade like this, it comes in these translucent colors I can’t describe, beautiful, unimaginably beautiful.
(Darius holds out the jade figure.)
(Setsuko Hearn touches the jade. Their hands touch. Darius Wheeler and Setsuko Hearn begin to recede from view.)
(Light on John Bell. The sound of the shakuhachi flute continues. As John Bell speaks, Claire Tsong is revealed. She’s reading from a transcript. John Bell is the voice behind the words she reads.)
John Bell: A list of beautiful things:
The curve of a lover’s neck, delicate, white.
The touch of a lover’s fingertips.
The weight of a lover’s hair, the scent, clove and sandalwood.
The rustle of silk undone,
Warm breath against one’s skin—
(The sound of the shakuhachi flute ends.)
(A desk is revealed. The desk is covered with papers, catalogues, slides, pens, paints, paint brushes, books. John Bell starts sifting through papers on the desk. Claire Tsong approaches him. The sound of wooden clappers.)
Claire Tsong: John?
John Bell: Claire? What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be
Claire Tsong: Where’s Utagawa?
John Bell: I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know where he is.
Claire Tsong: Did you see him at the show?
John Bell: No, he was running late. I got a message from his assistant. He was supposed to come directly here.
Claire Tsong: Looking for something?
John Bell: I wrote his assistant’s number on this little piece of paper. I thought I left it here. Goddamnit.
Claire Tsong: (Holding up the transcript.) What’s this?
John Bell: Nothing.
Claire Tsong: Where’s it from?
John Bell: Nowhere. (Taking the transcript.) Can you please not touch my stuff please, Claire, thank you.
Claire Tsong: John—
John Bell: I have to go.
Claire Tsong: Oh come on, John. John—
(John Bell exits. Elizabeth Newman-Orr enters.)
Claire Tsong: Cheers.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: It’s so crowded out there. I needed some air. I was feeling a little flushed. Do you happen to know where Mr. Wheeler is
by any chance?
Claire Tsong: No clue.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: I’m an old friend of his.
Claire Tsong: He’s got a lot of old friends. He’s a very friendly guy. Make
yourself at home. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: Thanks.
(Elizabeth Newman-Orr scans the works of art.)
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: So what do you like?
(Claire Tsong studies the art objects, and then picks one.)
Claire Tsong: I like this. It’s nice. A little showy, but nice.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: Is it real?
Claire Tsong: I guess it all depends on how you define real.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: That’s being a little coy, don’t you think?
Claire Tsong: It’s old. It’s painted by the guy it’s supposed to be painted by. I guess that makes it real. Most of the time with a fake, it’s pretty obvious. There’s something really stupid going on, something that doesn’t make sense. Wrong materials, shoddy workmanship.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: And what is it you do? I don’t think you said.
Claire Tsong: I’m an artist actually. Mixed media.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: That’s a big, broad category. It could mean all kinds of things.
Claire Tsong: Yes.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: (Referring to another art object:) Real?
Claire Tsong: Iffy.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: It looks real.
Claire Tsong: Lots of things look real. You go to a museum, it all looks real. And don’t get me started on auction houses. What a shell game those guys are running. You wouldn’t believe the crap that cycles through, third-rate counterfeits somebody paid a lot of money for, and now they gotta pawn off on somebody else, or else end up eating the loss.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: You sound like an expert.
Claire Tsong: It’s not about expertise. It’s all about the eye.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: The eye? That sounds so hoodoo.
(The sound of the shakuhachi flute begins. In the foreground, Setsuko Hearn and Darius Wheeler begin to come into view. They reconstruct the pose that they were last in. The pose becomes real, fleshed out.)
Claire Tsong: Its like it’s physical, you know, I’m talking about a physical sensation, an instinct. It’s like there’s an invisible thread between you and this thing—I don’t know. It’s hard to explain, it’s not objective, it’s irrational, it’s completely irrational. You can’t quantify or predict it. You just know, all of a sudden you know.
(The sound of wooden clappers.)
(The sounds of the shakuhachi flute continues. John Bell and Owen Matthiassen appear. John Bell, Owen Matthiassen, Claire Tsong, Elizabeth Newman-Orr, Darius Wheeler, and Setsuko Hearn are figures in a woodblock print, flesh figures in a floating world. The sound of wooden clappers. S. Darius Wheeler and Claire Tsong see each other. It’s a moment of nagashime, a sideways glance as seen in old woodblock prints of kabuki actors. The sound of wooden clappers. The sound of the shakuhachi flute ends.)
(The woodblock print instantly dissolves into movement. Claire Tsong, Elizabeth Newman-Orr, and John Bell exit in dfferent directions. The sound of a party in progress.)
Owen Matthiassen: Darius—
Darius Wheeler: Owen—
Setsuko Hearn: Dr. Matthiassen
Owen Matthiassen: Setsuko my dear, I’m so glad you made it. Utagawa should be here any minute now. Darius, what are you drinking?
Darius Wheeler: Plume wine.
Owen Matthiassen: Umeshu, how delightful.
Darius Wheeler: You’re in fine spirits, Owen.
Owen Matthiassen: I am, I am. I’ll have a drop, if it’s not too much of a bother.
Darius Wheeler: Not at all.
(Darius Wheeler prepares a drink.)
Owen Matthiassen: Darius, you’ve outdone yourself. I just ran into an old friend of mine from Waseda I haven’t seen in ages, and some woman from the consulate, turns out I knew her father. I see you’ve met my brilliant young colleague.
Darius Wheeler: I have. I had no idea.
Setsuko Hearn: Dr. Matthiassen is too kind.
Owen Matthiassen: Dr. Hearn is a shining star in our department. We’re incredibly lucky to have her join our ranks. Almost lost her to Standford, you know.
Setsuko Hearn: You are really, really too kind.
(Darius Wheeler gives Owen Matthiassen his drink.)
Owen Matthiassen: What happened to your hand?
Darius Wheeler: Nothing.
Owen Matthiassen: Darius, you’re hemorrhaging.
Darius Wheeler: I’m fine, Owen, I’m fine. (To Setsuko Hearn) So what are you working on exactly?
Owen Matthiassen: Dr. Hearn’s field of expertise is writing from the eleventh century, diaries, memoirs, pillow books written by women of Heian era. How the writer speaks in her most private moments, depictions of her interior life, the private self.
Darius Wheeler: That doesn’t sound humdrum at all.
(Setsuko Hearn turns away, approaching an art object.)
Owen Matthiassen: Humdrum? Hardly. Where did you get that idea? On the contrary, the feminine vernacular in the golden age of Japanese literature. Some wonderful women writing back then: Sri Shonagon, Izumi Shikibu—
Darius Wheeler: Lady Murasaki.
Setsuko Hearn: Very good.
Owen Matthiassen: The tale of Genji. Darius, I’m impressed. Have you read it?
Darius Wheeler: I have not.
Owen Matthiassen: Oh, but you must.
Setsuko Hearn: You’d like it.
Darius Wheeler: Would I?
Owen Matthiassen: It’s very engaging. Romance, intrigue. Some fine translations out there, Waley’s always good, accessible, surprisingly modern, I find.
Darius Wheeler: Owen, I haven’t read a book in over a decade.
Owen Matthiassen: Nonsense.
Darius Wheeler: It’s true. I’m a philistine, Owen. You’ve just always been too polite to notice. I had no idea I was conversing with such a shining star. I have to say, I feel a little out of my depth in such learned company.
Owen Matthiassen: Oh you do not. Don’t listen to a word he says. (Joining Setsuko Hearn) Breathtaking, isn’t it? Nobody has this kind of stuff anymore. I don’t know how he does it. Fantastic pieces, uncanny really. Good eye. I have to say, I take a little pride in contribution to all of it. I’ve known Darius for ages, know.
Setsuko Hearn: You studied with Dr. Matthiassen?
Owen Matthiassen: Oh no no no. Darius has never been much for the academic life, I’m afraid.
Darius Wheeler: I was a lazy bum, dropped out of school, never made through my second year.
Setsuko Hearn: It doesn’t seem to have held you back.
Owen Matthiassen: An understatement, my dear, you have no idea. He’s done fabulously well. I always knew he would.
Darius Wheeler: Owen is an eternal optimist.
Owen Matthiassen: I’m a fantastic judge of human nature. The man leads a charmed life. I envy you, Darius, I do, surrounded by most of us only see in picture books. A nice life. I could think of a lot worse. You have an eye for beautiful things.
Darius Wheeler: I like to think so.
Setsuko Hearn: You don’t care for Utagawa’s work, however.
Owen Matthiassen: Darius despises contemporary art. He’s very contrary, willfully anachronistic.
Darius Wheeler: I like his shunga.
Owen Matthiassen: Ah, yes, his erotic prints.
Setsuko Hearn: And why is that?
Owen Matthiassen: They’re very, very vulgar.
Darius Wheeler: Exactly. They’re honest. They’re getting at something basic and real.
Owen Matthiassen: The more graphic, the less beautiful, I find.
Darius Wheeler: I don’t think Utagawa’s about beauty, Owen. I think that’s precisely the problem. I think he’s about making a point. He’s ideas, his art is all about ideas, ideas about ideas.
(Enter John Bell.)
Owen Matthiassen: I disagree entirely.
John Bell: Mr. Wheeler—
Darius Wheeler: It’s just a series of abstractions tarted up to look like art.
Owen Matthiassen: I disagree, I have to disagree.
John Bell: Mr. Wheeler—
Darius Wheeler: I mean the guy’s got craft, I’ll give him that. Technically, he’s great but what he has to say—I wonder why it is that he can’t just make a beautiful thing and leave it at that.
Setsuko Hearn: I wonder what you mean when you say beautiful.
Darius Wheeler: Beautiful means beautiful.
Setsuko Hearn: That’s something of a dead end, don’t you think?
Darius Wheeler: No, no I don’t.
Setsuko Hearn: It’s so absolute.
Darius Wheeler: Of course, it is. It has to be. What are you left with otherwise?
(The sound of wooden clappers.)
John Bell: Mr. Wheeler—
Darius Wheeler: I’m sorry—John, what is it?
John Bell: I just spoke with Utagawa san’s assistant just now, and it seems—well, it seems that he won’t be able to evening.
Owen Matthiassen: What do you mean? I spoke to his assistant on the phone just this afternoon.
John Bell: Something came up apparently, some sudden obligation he couldn’t get out of. He sends his sincere regrets.
Owen Matthiassen: I see. How disappointing. I was so looking forward to me the man in person. Although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I hear he’s somewhat of a recluse, you know. Poor Darius, putting this whole evening together, loathe his work as you do. We should tell the other guests.
Darius Wheeler: I’ll take care of it.
Owen Matthiassen: Well, there’s nothing to be done. Another time perhaps. Life is full of the unexpected, best to be flexible, I find. At any rate, what a delight, my dear, to find you here. Here, let’s go this way. I want you to see this, mandala painting, Nepalese, thirteenth century when I first saw the thing, I was completely stupefied . . .
(Owen Matthiassen and Setsuko Hearn exit. Darius Wheeler and John Bell remain. The sound of wooden clappers.)
(The party begins to dissolve. Guests begin to exit into the night. Darius Wheeler begins to exit after Owen Matthiassen and Setsuko Hearn. Enter Elizabeth Newman-Orr.)
Darius Wheeler: All right, let’s wind this up, shall we. John, can you make announcement: The guest of honor is a no-show. Everybody just go home.
John Bell: Mr. Wheeler, one more thing.
Darius Wheeler: Yeah John, what? What is it?
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: Mr. Wheeler, Elizabeth Newman-Orr. It’s a pleasure. You have a beautiful space here, so many beautiful things.
Darius Wheeler: Thank you. Do I know you?
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: I’m a friend of Utagawa’s. I’m actually, I’m more of a friend of a friend, really an acquaintance, I’m more of an acquaintance.
Darius Wheeler: I see.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: I lie.
Darius Wheeler: I see.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: I’m uninvited. I know no one. You’ve found me out, I’m afraid.
Darius Wheeler: I won’t tell. Now if you’ll excuse me.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: Mr. Wheeler, if I could, I was speaking just now with assistant. I was hoping you and I could find a time to meet, tomorrow perhaps. I have a small matter I was hoping to discuss with you.
Darius Wheeler: Tomorrow’s kinda tight for me.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: I believe you’ll find it worth your while.
Darius Wheeler: And should I trust your judgment?
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: I’m a woman of unerring judgment.
Darius Wheeler: I’m intrigued. Should I be intrigued?
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: I think so. I’ll be glad to explain everything at length. Tomorrow perhaps?
Darius Wheeler: So eager. All right, look, why don’t you set something up with John. Now if you’ll excuse me.
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: Of course. Good night, Mr. Wheeler.
(Elizabeth Newman-Orr and John Bell exit. The sound breaking up. Kurogo, stage assistants in black overcostumes, remove props and scenery. The sound of wooden clappers. Owen Matthiassen holding a portfolio.)
Owen Matthiassen: Darius, a word with you.
(Light shift. Late evening. Owen Matthiassen and Darius Wheeler occupy a sliver of light.)
Darius Wheeler: Where did Dr. Hearn go?
Owen Matthiassen: She had to leave, the lateness of the hour.
Darius Wheeler: What a pity.
Owen Matthiassen: She said to tell you that she had a lovely time. Marvelous girl, isn’t she. Very smart, humbling really, and so young. My God, I remember being that young. I remember it vividly. How did I get to be so old.
Darius Wheeler: You’re not that old.
Owen Matthiassen: I’m ancient. It’s ridiculous.
Darius Wheeler: You’re young at heart . . .
Owen Matthiassen: Don’t condescend, Darius. It’s not nice.
Darius Wheeler: What do you have there, Owen? One of Utagawa’s sly little “masterpieces”?
Owen Matthiassen: Out of my price range, I’m afraid. No no, something else. Very exciting. More to your taste, I assure you. Here take a look. Stumbles upon it today, private gallery, little hole in the wall, one of those things, at the right, at the right time.
(A woodblock print is revealed. A reproduction of a woodblock print. Larger than life. Owen Matthiassen and Darius Wheeler appear as tiny human figures in the foreground of Hokusai’s landscape.)
Owen Matthiassen: Hokusai for Chrissakes. When I first saw it, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Fuji from Kajikazawa. First edition, not cheap, but fair, more than fair, and all things considered, in pretty good shape, some water damage, it’s true, and the color’s faded a bit, but other than that—I mean, good Lord, almost two hundred years old. Paper. Can you imagine. It’s a miracle it hasn’t sustained worse damage. Survival is a kind of beautiful, isn’t it. After all these years. Look at the mountain through the mist. Gorgeous, just gorgeous.
Darius Wheeler: Owen, this is a fake.
Owen Matthiassen: What are you talking about?
Darius Wheeler: It’s good. I mean, whoever did this is pretty good.
Owen Matthiassen: Well, I know you’re the expert, but I like to think I know a thing or two. For God’s sakes, I’ve been collecting prints for years. Look at the water marks, the publisher’s seal. The artist’s hand is proof enough, the vigor and delicacy of the lines, the weight of detail. I’m telling you, I’ve examined this print. I’ve studied it. I know what it looks like. I know what it should look like.
Darius Wheeler: It’s nice, Owen.
Owen Matthiassen: Nice? It’s not just nice. It’s spot on.
Darius Wheeler: Whoever the artist is, he knows what he’s doing. The only problem is: whoever he is, he’s not Hokusai. Look at the color. Look at it, really look.
(The colors of the woodblock print slowly transform, becoming unnaturally bright and lurid.)
Darius Wheeler: The color is a dead giveaway. It’s all wrong. I don’t care how much you distress it, underneath the stain, whatever this is, tea, coffee grounds, ash, it’s way too bright, way too brassy. Look at these blues. Aniline pigment, artificial, inorganic, imported to Japan from Germany. This print dates—or should date—from the l83Os. This kind of pigment wasn’t introduced into Japan until the mid-1850s. We’re talking twenty years after the fact. The print’s nice, Owen. It just happens to be fake.
(Owen Matthiassen fades away. The sound of wooden clappers. Light on Claire Tsong in a distant corner of the space.)
(A disclaimer in fine print.)
Claire Tsong: The vendor will not be responsible for the correctness of description, authenticity, or any defect or fault in or concerning any article, and makes no warranty whatever, but will sell each object exactly as is, without recourse.
(The sound of wooden clappers.)
(The sound of the shakuhachi flute. Claire Tsong and the woodblock print fade away. Darius Wheeler remains.)
1. The remaining section of Darius Wheeler’s monologue appears after the end of the play.
36 Views was commissioned by ASK. Theatre Projects in Los Angeles. The play was written under the auspices of Princeton University’s Hodder Fellowship and workshopped at the McCarter Theatre, ASK. Theatre Project’s Common Ground Festival, the Public Theatre’s New Works Now, Sundance Theatre Lab, and Breadloaf.
36 Views was originally produced by the Public Theatre/New York Shakespeare Festival, George C. Wolfe, Producer, in association with Berkeley Repertory Company, Tony Taccone, Artistic Director, and Susan Medak, Managing Director. It premiered in New York City at the Public Theatre on March 28, 2002. It was directed by Mark Wing-Davey, with scenic design by Douglas Stein, costume design by Myung Hee Cho, lighting design by David Weiner, sound design by Matthew Spiro, and production design by Ruppert Bolie; the production stage manager was John C. McNamara. The cast was as follows:
Setsuko Hearn: Liana Pai
John Bell: Ebon Moss-Bachrach
Claire Tsong: Elaine Tse
Elizabeth Newman-Orr: Rebecca Wisocky
Owen Matthiassen: Richard Clarke