ABOUT THE PLAY
The structure of 36 Views, along with its title, is inspired by Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, a series of woodblock prints by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), who is considered one of the outstanding figures of the Japanese Ukiyo-e - “pictures of a floating world” - school of printmaking. While the play follows a traditional story arc, breaking that arc into 36 scenes allows pieces of the plot to be revealed from various viewpoints. Multiple layers of deception are slowly uncovered, as are shocking twists where characters are revealed to be not always who or what they claim. The play raises questions about authenticity. Like Hokusai’s series of paintings, we are shown people and events from different perspectives and distances, causing our perceptions and conclusions to shift constantly.
The story deals with an art dealer, Darius Wheeler, and an East Asian literature professor, Setsuko Hearn, who become captivated by the sudden appearance of an ancient courtesan’s journal or “pillow book.” What Wheeler and Hearn don’t know is that both their careers and reputations are on the brink of destruction by Wheeler’s assistant, John Bell, and Claire Tsong, a restorer of Asian artifacts, who have teamed up to forge the pillow book and fabricate its provenance. The situation spirals out of control, sparking an international sensation about the pillow book and attracting the attention of a mysterious woman who asks lots of questions and offers a business proposition that is a little too good to be true.
Naomi Iizuka said that she didn’t set out to write a play about art forgery. For her, the play is about how we navigate a different culture. All the characters in the play are experts in a field, and yet despite their expertise, they’re struggling with something that’s foreign to them. Iizuka believes that the universe is more complicated than we sometimes think, that the truth of a situation or a person may not be what it seems, and that it can shift over time. One of the essential questions of the play asks is, “What does it mean to be authentic?”
Iizuka also said, “I think the play does posit that there are certain truths, be it an authentic art object or an authentic feeling of love. But at the same time, how you discern that truth is very tricky. I guess I would say that the real thing exists, but it is elusive and hard to pin down. And on some level, I think the play suggests that you need to take a leap of faith in discerning the truth in both art and love.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Naomi Iizuka was born in 1965 in Tokyo, Japan, to an American mother of Spanish descent and a Japanese father. As a child she lived in Japan, Indonesia, Holland, Washington, D.C., and Chevy Chase, Maryland. In Maryland, Iizuka attended the National Cathedral School, a private Catholic institution catering to the children of diplomats.
Iizuka grew up with an incredible love of literature, but did not discover theater until she began studying the classics and literature at Yale University. After graduating with her Bachelor’s Degree from Yale, Iizuka spent a year at Yale Law School and then worked for several years before enrolling in the Master of Fine Arts program in playwriting at the University of California, San Diego. There she studied closely with playwright Adele Edling Shank and received her Master of Fine Arts degree in 1992.
Her work has been developed and produced throughout the United States. She is a member of the New Dramatists and a recipient of the Whiting Award, the Gerbode Foundation Fellowship, the NEA/TCG Theatre Artist Residency Program for Playwrights, the McKnight Fellowship, the PEN Center USA West Award for Drama, Princeton University’s Hodder Fellowship, and the Jerome Playwriting Fellowship. Iizuka has taught master classes at the Kennedy Center and her works have been the focus of multiple segments on National Public Radio.
Naomi Iizuka’s most recent play, 17 Reasons (Why), was produced at Campo Santo + Intersection for the Arts and published by Stage and Screen in the anthology Breaking Ground: Adventurous Plays By Adventurous Theatres, edited by Kent Nicholson. Her other plays include: Polaroid Stories; Language of Angels; War of the Worlds (written in collaboration with Anne Bogart and SITI Company), Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls; Tattoo Girl; and Skin. Ms. Iizuka’s plays have been produced by Actors Theatre of Louisville, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Campo Santo + Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco, the Dallas Theatre Center, Undermain Theatre in Dallas, Frontera Fest at Hyde Park in Austin, Printer’s Devil and Annex in Seattle, NYSF/Joseph Papp Public Theatre, Geva Theatre, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Soho Rep, Tectonic Theatre in New York, San Diego’s Sledgehammer Theatre, Northern Light Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta, Alternate Theatre in Montreal, and the Edinburgh Festival. Her plays have been workshopped by San Jose Rep, Geva Theatre, Bread Loaf, Sundance Theatre Lab, A.S.K. Theatre Projects, the McCarter Theatre, Seattle’s A Contemporary Theatre, the Bay Area Playwrights’ Festival, Midwest PlayLabs, En Garde Arts/P.S. 122, and New York Theatre Workshop.
Ms. Iizuka has taught playwriting at the University of Iowa and University of Texas, Austin, and was a Professor of Dramatic Arts and Director of the Playwriting Program at UC Santa Barbara. In 2008 she took over as the head of the MFA playwriting program at UC San Diego.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Trust. What and whom can you trust?
This is the question director Risa Branin asks when beginning her discussion of 36 Views. In a time of social media frenzy with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posts increasing by the second, people are constantly creating images of who they are and what is important in their lives. How do we as observers (the audience) know that the image one is presenting is real? Can we ever know the truth of another person from these creations?
Several facets are explored in this work that was structured by the inspiration of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai’s series of woodblock prints called Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. We are transported back in time as we hear the text from an ancient Japanese pillow book and numerous works of art are referenced. It gives us a glimpse into as culture that may be quite remote for most viewers. Risa appreciates the valuable insight we gain with this piece as we experience a culture with a deep and rich history.
Naomi Iizuka and Risa were on the faculty together at UC Santa Barbara for a number of years. Risa had read the play years ago and really loved it, but this is her first experience directing the piece and she is thrilled with the opportunity. Her relationship with Naomi Iizuka has been extremely helpful with the process as she has been able to get clarity about moments in the play from Naomi that are particularly challenging. The play can be quite dense. The language is very poetic in moments, yet can also be contemporary and conversational. There are multiple layers in both the language and theatrical elements that all must work beautifully together.
As a director, Risa loves the collaborative process that creates the design for the show. With this process she notes, “I was handed an incredible group of artists to collaborate with: scenic, costume, lighting, and sound designers, a composer, and for this play, a projection designer. We sit in a room and ask, ‘Why this play, at this time, for this audience?’ And then we create a design to hold those answers. That process is pretty fun.” The play begins in a loft space during the opening of an art exhibit. The creative team loved the idea of creating a space that could be both a loft and an art gallery at first glance, but can also easily transform into other locations. The space is very simple, and square shapes create everything from chairs to tables to pedestals for artwork. Risa and Scenic Designer DeAnne Kennedy also wanted a space that reflected an Asian sensibility since there are so many references to Japanese art and culture. Inspired with the idea of “authenticity,” Risa and the design team hope that bringing 36 Views to life will raise important questions and engage people in dialogue about what is authentic and what is not. What does it mean? Who is authentic? Am I being authentic? Are you authentic? How can we tell the difference?