See What I Wanna See, onstage at Theatre Three’s Theatre Too, is a wild ride, channeling Japanese Noh, Sweeney Todd vibes and Bernstein’s A Miracle on 57th Street—set to stirring words and music by Michael John LaChiusa (who is composing the music for Giant, which will have its world premiere at Dallas Theater Center in January).
Gorgeous songs, strong performances and dramatic staging overcome the sometimes overly complicated structure of this operatic-style musical based on short stories by Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa.
Director Jac Alder has reconfigured the basement space at Theatre Three to link a 30-foot runway to the tight central stage, opening up room for more expansive movement without losing any of the intimacy of the close-range performances in this emotionally charged production. Musical director Terry Dobson on piano is up to the score’s wide-ranging harmonies and rhythms, assisted by Ellen Kaner on woodwinds.
The three stories that make up the play examine two common themes: you kill what you love, and human experience is so subjective that no single event is perceived the same way by those present. The sometimes searching, often raucous and hard-driving music with which the story unfolds amplifies the common emotional core of the different tales.
The controlling fable, based on the medieval Japanese Noh play Rashomon, is comprised of two short scenes opening each act. In the first, the wife murders her lover at their last assignation. In the second, the lover claims he strangles her. Both characters are convincingly doomed and believable. This ambiguity about the nature of reality informs the two modern-day stories that follow.
The first act is set in Central Park in 1951 where a brutal murder is reported from the point of view of the thief, the murdered man’s actress wife, a passing janitor from the nearby movie house, and the dead man himself via a hapless medium. Jennifer Noth expertly and movingly delivers the wife’s anguished, difficult song of loss and fear. But the best song in this story belongs to the arrogant thief (Daylon Walton) who confesses to the crime, bragging that the wife loved being raped, and that "murder is what I do best/ It’s something you learn, like a driver’s test." Amy Mills lightens the blood-thick mood with a playful song about the trials of a hard-working psychic.
The second act is set in New York in 2002, a year after the horrific terrorist attack. Most fully realized, this act focuses on a priest (Ashley Wood) who has lost his faith in God after a year of hearing the pitiful confessions and painful recollections of survivors. Handsome and boyish, Wood is perfectly cast as the priest, his voice reflecting sadness, dismay, joy and astonishment as his "joke" takes on a viral life of its own. He’s come to agree with his atheist aunt that faith is "the greatest practical joke."
To deal his personal belief a final blow, the priest posts a notice in Central Park that a miracle will take place there at a specific upcoming date and time. The musical momentum grows as the media-driven date nears and his experiment gets out of hand. Ordinary people and celebrities alike gather to witness some meaningful sign from above. Even the priest’s aunt shows up. We know it’s a simple ruse grown to monstrous size─but what will actually happen with the swelling of so much ardent expectation in one place?
As the title suggests, maybe we all simply see what we wanna see. See for yourself.