A blue light shines in the distance as shadowy silhouettes spread across the stage. The sounds of a busy street grow as the actors make idle conversation on their cell phones; a regular day in the city of Tokyo. Suddenly, a woman wearing a mask with bulging eyes contorts her way to center stage as people snap pictures of her. The walls close in, the lights turn blood red, and the mask breaks away to reveal the face of a geisha. And then afterwards, a super happy funtime dance sequence!!!
This is the world Quasimondo Theatre, located at 161 W. Wisconsin Ave, has created. In between the rice paper walls is a spectacle of surrealism, emotion, symbolism, and giant robots. Kamikaze Cutesauce: Cosplay Club takes you down the rabbit hole into the wonderful, weird, and even worrisome world of anime.
Quasimondo Theatre prides itself in its physical theater, and this pride is felt throughout the visuals, choreography, and acting. Each schoolgirl costume, kimono, and cosplay outfit is vibrantly colored and deftly characterized while being simple enough to appreciate their design. The choreography is bouncing with energy from each peppy dance sequence to each hard-hitting, gun and knife filled fight scene. And the acting deftly carries the weight of the show’s message with its sheer intensity; at one point, a person appeared to look so angry that he could have burst his capillaries. The front row feels like the splash zone at an anime SeaWorld.
But its cutesy exterior gives way to a dark and twisted reality. The play delves into the themes of the objectification of women and youth and the escapist nature of anime, among many others. The former is especially showcased, there’s one powerful moment in particular involving a stark naked, kabuki theater inspired marionette dancing about as a violin plays in the background. Another moment involves a woman in a giant robot crushing the sailor scouts, crushing the stereotypes that force her to conform to society’s ways.
These themes are told entirely through the visuals, in both subtle, bold, and abstract ways. A keen mind may be required for some of the more vague actions. But even if you do not understand some of the scenes, the style and movement of each action makes them enjoyable regardless. Being physical theater, there is little dialogue to convey the story. And what little dialogue is in the play is spoken in either Japanese or Japanese-sounding gibberish. But the visuals are so strong that the dialogue acts as a mere compliment to a character’s actions.
The show consists of three acts involving many different subplots. These stories involve a girl who must battle both her insecurities and the girly stereotypes that plague her, another girl who refuses to grow up, and many more. One might consider this style of storytelling to be sporadic, but each subplot is fleshed out and ties into the overall themes of the play. Every scene, dance sequence, and fight scene individually stands out in both what happens within them and how they portray the themes. I liken these scenes to the opening and ending sequences of an anime; they employ abstract visuals to give hints to the story while still remaining entertaining.
The play was written by the cast themselves in six and a half weeks. This isn’t the first play to be written entirely by the cast, but it is certainly the best. Much like the cosplay actors and anime that inspired it, this production is highly expressive and proud of how strange it is. It serves as both an examination and a celebration of Japanese pop culture.
You can catch the performance this Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. You can also check out the show’s website for more information.