nytheatre.com review by Di Jayawickrema
April 11, 2011
Hanako Junction tells the fictionalized tale of Japanese stage actress Hanako, a muse caught between the egos of artist Auguste Rodin and dancer Loie Fuller. Paralleling this narrative is the modern story of Miki, a young woman who becomes entangled in a similarly complex set of relations governing art, the artist, and possession. The play sets out to answer the eternal question of who owns art—and who owns the artist—but unfortunately, the production falls far short of its intriguing premise.
In the early 20th century, pioneering dancer/choreographer Loie Fuller “discovers” Hanako, a former geisha, and makes her a star on the Parisian stage. Hanako catches the eye of famous French sculptor/painter Rodin, and the two great artists begin a deadly battle for Hanako, who only wants to represent herself—“Hanako presents Hanako,” she says firmly. Meanwhile, in the 21st century, a young Japanese-Canadian woman, Miki Werstein, travels to New York under the protection of her father’s old friend, Merrill Lowe, with vague plans to become a photographer. She develops a tumultuous relationship with Tony, a house painter and friend of Merrill’s, but what is clearly meant to pass for complexity only reads as confusion on the stage. It is unclear why many of these characters are in conflict, especially Miki and Tony. I got the sense that the play has something very meaningful to say but amidst a bit of purple prose and theatrical navel-gazing that something is never said with any real clarity.
Writer/director Roderic Wachovsky doesn’t lack for ambition or effort here, spending over two years on this work (according to the program), but his final product is an overwrought affair, which is further hurt by less than stellar performances. The two lead actresses in particular provide too many moments of under- and over-acting, respectively. Nadia Gan, who plays both Hanako and Miki, does not display the raw passion and power evident in any of Rodin’s works of Hanako. Ellen McGhee, as Loie and Merrill, gives a gratingly shrill performance.
The set by Mark Symczak is a clever work, well-lit by Joyce Liao and well-used by Wachovsky and stage manager Michael Palmer, but neither the play nor its actors quite live up to these production elements.