If you ever took a moment to consider what might have resulted had Freud ever decided to give up psychoanalysis and pursue a career in the theater, look no further than The Room Nobody Knows. Japanese psychologist turned playwright/director Kuro Tanino and his company Niwa Gekidan Penino are in an arrested phase of phallic development in this dreamlike tale that visits the Under the Radar Festival, involving penises of all sizes. Fashioned mostly from what looks like an invitingly smooth white polymer that the actors can’t seem to resist stroking, these cocks big and small comprise all manner of furniture and objects on stage, even musical instruments, such as the shakuhachi, or Japanese flute, which gives rise – no pun intended – to some pseudo acts of fellatio. Look around the room you are in at the moment. Now imagine everything you see taking the shape of an erect male member, and you have an idea of what the set looks like.
But this Room isn’t about the bedroom so much as the analyst’s office because the story, if there is one (involving incestuous brothers and two grotesque, elfish creatures), lies deep in Tanino’s psyche and a strongly paternalistic Japanese family structure, or so he explained to a bemused audience in a talkback. He premiered it in his Tokyo studio apartment where he also built the two-tiered set and phallic furniture that eventually became his sole living space for six months (that idea alone is something to ponder). The saving grace of this overlong (even at 60 minutes) show is a robust sense of irony and, for lack of a better term, Tanino’s eye for the visual: the show plays off tropes of contemporary art with touches of Gaudi.
The Room Nobody Knows is Tanino’s private analyst’s couch onto which he has projected all his familio-erotic relationships and given them concrete “form.” As a session of psychotherapy, it’s hard to know how effective it is but at least its considerably more fun.
In Japanese with English supertitles.