Count Down My Life
nytheatre.com review by Nathaniel Kressen
August 9, 2013
A scene from Count Down My Life
Count Down My Life is a largely satisfying rock musical out of Japan that features stellar music from Tokifumi Ozawa but could benefit from additional work on the script. It follows an aspiring playwright who is approaching the age of 30, at which time he will become ineligible for most emerging playwright awards. With one year to go he vows to write the best material of his life and apply to every opportunity, but struggles to find a subject worthwhile of writing about. A mysterious young man arrives one day saying he is a fan of his work and urges him not to get discouraged. Over the course of the show, the young man proves himself to be a much-needed supporter as the playwright questions his path, and the audience gets the sense he might be some incarnation of the playwright himself.
While the self-imposed deadline lends a nice urgency to the piece, the scenes expressly dealing with the playwright’s struggle are often cyclical and lack dramatic tension. As such, the shining moments of Ikko Ueda’s script are the ones that provide momentary distractions and end up illuminating the piece at large. One such scene is set at the playwright’s day job at an 8-12 (a clever derivative of 7-11), where he is scanning the “best consumed by” dates on prepackaged sandwiches. Studying the store’s questionable new Octopus-Rice sandwich, he vows to achieve his dream before his own “best by” date expires. Another highlight comes when the playwright attends the wedding of a high school friend with several other friends’ weddings on the horizon. Seeing them all achieve happiness and settle down, he questions his solitary lifestyle and revisits a past decision to postpone marrying his once true love - now his ex-girlfriend.
It’s difficult to weigh in on the writing at large, as there is the matter of the translation from Japanese to English to consider. It could be that areas that seem like they require greater clarity – or alternatively, a lighter touch – might have only seemed that way because the script’s finer points were lost in translation. Therefore, the only guidance I would offer to Ueda is to vary the methods by which the plot moves forward, and to avoid repetitive dialogue or action whenever possible. At least three times in the script, the playwright receives a phone call delivering bad news that sets him on a new course of action, which makes the sequences that follow feel a bit formulaic and false. Given that the show features a trio of chorus members who adopt different roles throughout the show, it makes sense for them to be utilized more thoroughly in order to craft a more varied and intuitive throughline. Also, the revelation of the young man’s true identity – or rather, the playwright’s reaction to it – feels overwrought and heavy-handed, more a departure from the play than its inevitable outcome.
That said, Count Down My Life achieves a charming sort of resolution thanks in large part to the skill and enthusiasm of its performers. The live musicians are stellar, and my interest was piqued from the moment I heard the pre-show music. The cast delivers energetic and believable performances, and was clear enough in their delivery that often I chose to watch them instead of checking the subtitles. The set and costume design served the production well. All in all, the company should consider this production a success, and well worth the long trip from Japan.