Theater review

What if there were a path to becoming a god? You’ll have to excuse the potential blasphemy for this thought experiment. But why be some normal profession if you could potentially use your godly powers to change the world for the better instead of continuing to wade through the slow trudge of progress? When 12-year-old Miku proclaims, “I’m Miku, and I want to be a god,” in Julia Izumi’s “miku, and the gods.,” presented at ArtsWest and copresented by Pork Filled Productions, what initially appears to be a fiery decision to take down the patriarchy reveals itself to be something much more personal.

Accompanying Miku on this quest for godly knowledge is Ephraim, a young boy seeking to make the Olympics one day. Together, they enlist the help of the mystical One Who Is Wise (OWIW) to learn what it takes to become a god. Meanwhile, Grandma Seiko, Miku’s grandmother, is losing her memory. She seeks the help of her hair stylist Shara, who also happens to be a minor god of war, to get her memories back while Shara is looking to be accepted by the other gods.

Perhaps most intriguing about this production, directed by Alyza DelPan-Monley, is how the action on stage is in constant conversation with Madelyn Zandt’s sound design and use of voice-over (aka an unseen voice from above). In some moments, like the beginning of the show, the sound design acts as a sort of metronome. The rhythmic sound effect of knocking synced with Miku going door to door unsuccessfully asking for guidance gives the feeling of being stuck in an unending routine. Other moments act as a sort of Greek chorus, setting up scenes with descriptions of who and what’s on stage, and even speaking directly to Shara when he enters too soon: “Shara does not enter yet.”

Other moments still turn the sound design into the voice of the gods, or a connection to them at least. Booming moments, combined with dramatic lighting from lighting designer Annie Liu, echo the earth-shattering force you’d imagine the gods would have were they to communicate. Liu couples this with wire orbs hanging from the ceiling, each with a singular lightbulb inside. Some beautiful moments in the show feature these orbs, lit from both the outside and from within, glowing almost like celestial bodies above the characters.

What’s tricky is when these effects start to bleed together during the climax of Izumi’s play. As everyone reaches their point of finally going to see/confront the gods once and for all, the play becomes a sort of movement and gesture piece onstage. The sound design becomes confusing, muddying whether what we’re listening to alongside the movements are the voices of gods, thoughts of a character or something else entirely. It’s a pivotal moment in the show, and the one moment where the action on stage is no longer in conversation with the sound, but instead in opposition.

I wonder if it’s intentional distortion, crafted to be a bit hazy since those climactic moments also find the characters in a bit of a haze, reeling from the revelations that got them to this point. What’s tough is that a lot of the plot seems to resolve somewhere in the series of events around this murky sequence, making it really tough for the show to stick its landing.

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Izumi’s script flits between the levity of a children’s play and existentialism worthy of a Greek myth. One minute, Miku is proclaiming, “I’m not a kid, I’m a minor” because it’s “all about the branding,” and the next OWIW is piercing through Miku’s true reasoning for wanting to be a god by asking simply, “Who do you want to punish?” 

For their part, much of the cast seems to have a solid grasp on the story Izumi is telling. Especially Lola Rei Fukushima, who shows us a Miku who manages to never feel inaccessibly childish, just unrestrained. As we learn that Miku’s brother tragically died saving someone from drowning, we see the pain (and occasional illogical anger) that comes with losing a loved one. And NEVE as OWIW perfectly accentuates the comedy of Izumi’s script and delivers a steady stream of sarcastic haymakers. 

Still, it’s tough to fully love a show where you get lost along the way to its ending. There are some real bright spots in this production, but losing connection with the story at such a crucial moment took away much of the heart that DelPan-Monley’s direction had been trying to build. For a story grounded in the bonds of friendship and family, losing the heart can be devastating.

“miku, and the gods.”

By Julia Izumi. Through July 3; ArtsWest, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle; masks and proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test required; $15-$44; 206-938-0339; artswest.org

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