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Off Broadway


Happy Hour

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Happy Hour, the play produced by Hiu Productions currently playing as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival, has a somewhat deceptive title. First, the play runs far closer to 120 minutes than 60, and sitting through it is not exactly a happy experience.

The actors (Motoki Kobayashi, Yosuke Takahashi, Yuzo Agawa, Shiro Watanabe, Sharon Edrei, and Eben Bull) are mostly very likable. This becomes important during the portions of the play you may not be able to understand, either because of the presentation of the subject matter or the use of an unfamiliar language (Japanese and English are both used at different points). Even if you do understand some of what's being said, expect parts of the show to resist rational comprehension.

The play begins with an audition for members of the audience to join the Hiu Shudan theatre group, and ends with two scenes that make you look at that initial audition scene differently. The reasoning and the details behind all this are never entirely clear (at least in English), but Happy Hour remains at least reasonably internally consistent (if not entirely coherent) during these scenes.

It is the section between these scenes that drinks Happy Hour under the table. After the audition, three actors perform a play - entirely in Japanese - that seems to center around two identical shirts and a large steamer trunk. Once the scene has played its course (about 20-25 minutes worth), it is followed by its own English transalation.

If the idea is strong, the execution is particularly weak. Director Takuro Arai obviously had a vision in constructing the play, but it got lost along the way. If the play was to bring speakers of English and Japanese together, as it seems, one would hope the Japanese portion would be slightly less baffling for those who don't understand it. Likewise, one would hope there would be more for the Japanese speakers to watch than merely the same mini-play repeated again in (poorly-translated) English. No play can please everyone; Happy Hour doesn't even try.

The play's biggest mistake is that which it uses to try to make its point: Two different languages. Does the play make more sense, or is it more enjoyable, if you understand Japanese? Perhaps, perhaps not, but everything about the show suggests it shouldn't be necessary. If you speak Japanese, you may want to investigate Happy Hour, but its message, if any, may leave English speaking audiences more drunk with confusion than anything else.

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Hiu Productions
Happy Hour
Part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival
Through July 29
The New 42nd Street Theatre, 348 West 42nd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues
Tickets $15 per show / Festival Pass $99
Festival Schedule and Tickets: Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200