The truth is a tricky thing. A person can know another person for years, have a deep relationship with them, and still never know what is really going on. What seems to be so often is in fact not. Labeling itself as a "zen exploration of the gap between truth and convenient fiction," Ore, or Or, a new play by Duncan Pflaster (who wrote last summer's delightful Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants), places in parallel the facts of the story of General Tomoyuki Yamashita and the convoluted love lives of four New Yorkers. Yamashita, a general of the Japanese army during World War II, allegedly buried a fortune in gold in caverns underground somewhere in the Phillipines. In Ore, or Or, Calvin Kanayama, an art historian at the Metropolitain Museum of Art, is attempting to determine whether or not several gold statues found in the Phillipines are in fact some of Yamashita's gold. He's also having dreams about Yamashita, which adds an imaginative element to the play that, unfortunately, does not go very deep. At its heart, Ore, or Or is a story about four self-absorbed and lost people. Calvin meets Debby in a bar on St. Patty's day and they hit it off enough that he goes home with her, and ends up spending the next 10 months dating her. Maybe. What is "dating," anyway? Given that they're relatively hip, young, and live in New York, the characters make a lot of philosophical-ish quips and ruminate on the way society functions. Debby and her roommate Sean live in Spanish Harlem and lament the way it is being gentrified, all while admitting that they are part of the gentrification. The banter and quips could get heavy-handed but manage not to and the actors deliver them with spot-on timing.
The play is set up as a series of vignettes, each occurring on a holiday during each month of the year (starting the day after St. Patrick's day and ending on Valentine's Day). The structure of play prevents it from feeling overextended. There are scene shifts within the scene shifts, giving the two hour plus play a feeling of brevity. A woman dressed as a geisha controls the scene shifts with a disinterested wave of her hands. Rachel Lin, the actress playing the geisha as well as several other roles (a photographer, Calvin's sister, a Halloween party hostess) is a strong performer, shifting from role to role effortlessly. The other actors handle their roles nicely and there is a sense that each actor has settled comfortably into his or her character's skin.
That's important, as it makes the audience feel empathy for the struggles and pains of each one. Without that (and without the Yamashita metaphor), Ore, or Or would feel all to much like any other play written about young people and the troubles of love. With his large imagination and witty dialogue, Pflaster is definitely a playwright to watch. Although the Yamashita element could be deepened and expanded, Ore, or Or offers a nice alternative to the basic romantic comedy.