Live Arts Review: Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech

Toshiki Okada’s triptych of plays operates on two levels. The first pokes fun at the absurdities of office life. Three temps must plan the retirement party of a permanent worker. Great, despair-addled problem: What restaurant should they select, since they barely know her?

Most jokes emerge from Okada’s clever comedic techniques of unimportant phrases and perspectives repeated ad nauseum, such as a co-worker debating the morality of temporary workers violating the office hierarchy. These speeches complement a formalized, presentational style, but despite the actors speaking Japanese, (supertitles, including Wikipedia jokes, appear on the back wall), little but their rail-thin physiques distinguishes them from their American counterparts.

Okada’s repetitious choreography deepens the absurd situation; a couple flirts, with each other and with the line between hitting on and harassment. He dips into long crouches to peer up her skirt while she complains of an air conditioner set to an unbearable temperature.

The second level interweaves an existentialist meditation on young Japanese workers in meaningless, corporate conditions. A farewell party serves as a finel meal; each worker wonders what she would eat on her last day. In the titular farewell speech, the retiree tells a rambling, ominous story about stepping on a cicada, crushing a creature “that emerges above ground for a short time, only to spend its life crying.”

A metaphor tucked within an absurdity, sure, but neither approach transcends the obvious. The British and American Office series provided more palatable humor, and Okada’s sole insight comes unintentionally, showing that existentialist writers can only depict and describe— in this case, humorously — but otherwise offer little else of value. 

--Jim Rutter

Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech.  7 p.m. through Sunday at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 North American St. Tickets: $28 to $35.