Academic journal article TheatreForum

SCRIPT: Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West

Academic journal article TheatreForum

SCRIPT: Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West

Article excerpt


In the darkness, the sound of the flute.

Light on Isabel Hewlett, a woman in Victorian dress.

ISABEL: I came to Japan because of a photograph I saw once upon a time, a long time ago. I was a very little girl. I had crept into my father's study and gone to his desk and opened a drawer, and in that drawer I came upon a box, and in that box was a photograph: a picture of a man.

Light on a Tattooed Man. He is a beautiful, young Japanese man. He is almost naked. His body is covered in tattoos.

ISABEL: He was like nothing I had ever seen before. He had tattoos over most of his body, all over his chest and his back, all up and down his arms, and on the upper part of his leg, his thighs. He was practically naked. I had never seen a naked man before. I couldn't take my eyes off of him. And I remember, I remember feeling a kind of heat rising under my skin and the strangest sensation in my belly, as if I had been suddenly dropped from a great height and was falling.

The sound of the flute fades away.

Light shift.


A photographic studio in Yokohama. 1884.

Farsari, the photographer, is setting up his camera. The Tattooed Man sits for a photograph. Isabel stands on the threshold.

ISABEL: Forgive me. I don't know what possessed me to confess such a thing or to come here today. I was lost, you see, and I saw your sign, and I thought, I thought-I don't know what I thought. I really, I ought to go.

FARSARI: Where did he get it?

ISABEL: Excuse me?

FARSARI: Your father. Where did he get the picture?

ISABEL: Oh I, I don't know. It was before I was born. He was a very peculiar man. He traveled a great deal.

FARSARI: And you find that peculiar?

ISABEL: No, of course not. I didn't mean to say that. I myself am traveling now.

FARSARI: And you are not peculiar in the least.

ISABEL: No, no I'm not. I'm very ordinary. I am the most ordinary woman you will ever meet. It's just that my father, he was simply-well he had a taste for curiosities.

FARSARI: Photographs of naked men.

ISABEL: Among other things. He collected odd little souvenirs. They were all over our house where I grew up: spears and blow pipes and strange little idols from I'm not sure where.

FARSARI: Some godless heathen land no doubt, where heathens engage in all sorts of godless, heathen rituals, as heathens are wont to do. Did he have a shrunken head by chance?

ISABEL: He did, in fact.

FARSARI: I thought he might. Alas, I cannot offer you shrunken heads, only naked men.

ISABEL: Excuse me?

FARSARI: Or I should say, more precisely, one semi-naked man.

ISABEL: Oh, I hadn't intended to make a purchase. And certainly not one of...well...

FARSARI: A semi-naked man.


FARSARI: Perhaps you'd prefer a photograph of a temple or a shrine. Some serene landscape: Mount Fuji at daybreak, tiny peasants toiling in a distant field.

ISABEL: No. No, thank you.

FARSARI: You don't care for landscapes?

ISABEL: No, I do.

FARSARI: Perhaps you're looking for photographs of native types: stable boys and street peddlers, or perhaps you'd prefer a lady. Ladies are very popular: ladies with fans, ladies sipping tea, ladies plucking oysters from the briny deep. So many ladies engaged in all manner of activity.

ISABEL: I really, I should go. Forgive me for interrupting you. Thank you for your time.

Isabel begins to leave.

FARSARI: My shop is rather hard to find, Miss... Mrs...?

ISABEL: Hewlett.

FARSARI: I can't imagine that you simply stumbled upon it by chance. This part of Yokohama-well, it's not a part of the city that ladies like yourself frequent.

ISABEL: And what kind of lady do you take me to be?

FARSARI: A rich American lady, a well-intentioned do gooder

ISABEL: I am neither well-intentioned, nor do I think I do much good. …

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