See What I Wanna See
Words and Music by Michael John LaChiusa | Based on short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa | As adapted by Takashi Kojima
SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE, a musical about lust, greed, murder, faith and redemption, was named by New York Magazine as one of the Best Musicals of 2005 and nominated for nine Drama Desk Awards, including Best Musical. It is based on three short stories by the Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa and unfolds like a classical Japanese screen painting.
In Kesa and Morito, set in medieval Japan, two lovers sing of the ecstasy and torment of their illicit affair and their determination to end it that night.
R Shomon, set in 1951, New York City, follows the investigation of a crime of passion and the witnesses' contradicting versions of the event. An innocent bystander, a cunning thief, a flirtatious wife, a psychic and even the ghost of the murdered man are all caught in a web of deceit.
Gloryday, set in present-day New York City, introduces a priest during a crisis of faith after a terrible tragedy strikes the city. Disillusioned and angry, he plays a practical joke and posts an anonymous letter in Central Park, declaring that Christ will appear, rising from the pond. On the day of the miracle, a storm blows through the Park, and only the priest sees his lie become a truth.
Act 1 – "Kesa" and "R Shomon"
In medieval Japan, Kesa plans to kill her lover, Morito ("Kesa"). Morito arrives, and they make love. Kesa divulges to the audience that "[her] husband knows [their] secret" and draws a knife out of her kimono and raises it to stab Morito at the height of her climax, but a blackout leaves the outcome unknown.
The scene shifts to New York City in 1951, where a murder has taken place. The janitor of a movie house is being interrogated by an unseen policeman. He explains that when he left work in the late night/early morning he took a shortcut through Central Park, where he found "the scarf, the body, the blood" ("The Janitor's Statement"). He slips when he refers to the weapon as "his knife", indicating that the killer is a male, but then he claims that the police had mentioned this to him.
A thief, Jimmy Mako, is also being interrogated ("The Thief's Statement"). He boasts about committing the crime, and a flashback begins as he describes how Lily looked at him on the street after leaving the movies with her husband Louie ("She Looked at Me"). The thief follows the couple to the nightclub where she flirts with both Louie and, discreetly, the Thief ("See What I Wanna See"). The Thief decides that the only way to get a chance at Lily is to get the Husband out of the way. He convinces Louie to go with him to the park to dig up "Big Money" that he knows is hidden there. After a few drinks, Louie agrees, and Lily is also persuaded to come along. The Thief knocks out the husband, ties him up and rapes Lily, who tries vainly to defend herself with a knife ("The Park"). The Thief snaps - he's infatuated with Lily and is convinced that she wants him too, vowing "You'll Go Away With Me". Lily orders the Thief to fight her husband for her ("Murder"). He does, killing Louie; but Lily runs off into the night. Back at the police department, the Thief calmly states that he will "take the chair."
The Janitor explains to his interrogator his philosophy about witnessing strange situations in New York City: "Best Not To Get Involved", but he admits to remembering Lily - "how could you forget a woman like her?" The Wife enters the interrogation room to explain her version of the story ("The Wife's Statement"). After the Thief raped her, she blacked out and awoke to find her husband, Louie, glaring at her, blaming her for the rape, and feeling they no longer had anything left to live for. She begs him for his love and forgiveness ("Louie"). He indicates that they should kill themselves together. She begins to comply ("Louie guide my hand, I will honor you") but at the last second, as he pushes the knife towards her, she panics and turns it towards him, killing him and running away.
Back in the interrogation room, the Janitor recalls an adage that "only the dead tell the truth." A Medium arrives and explains that the spirit of the Husband entered her during a seance. She summons his spirit again ("The Medium and The Husband's Statement"). The Husband's story is that his wife became enraptured with the Thief and turned on the husband ("You'll Go Away With Me" (Reprise)). The rape becomes passionate love-making, and the Husband attempts to block it out of his mind by recalling that the marquee of the movie house screening Rashomon was missing the "a" in the title. The Wife orders the Thief to bind the husband. She assaults her husband verbally, relishing her new-found power, and telling him everything she has kept bottled up during their marriage; she will take "No More". She orders the Thief to stab the Husband. Surprisingly, the Thief instead cuts the bonds of the Husband and holds the knife to the Wife's throat, asking, "Do you want me to slash her throat and save you the trouble later?" Louie just stares, and the Thief eventually releases the Wife, tossing the knife to the Husband. The Husband, seething with rage, chases his wife away and is left alone. He decides that the honorable thing to do would be to kill himself ("Simple as This"). The Medium and the Husband perform an elaborate ritual reminiscent of traditional Japanese Seppuku (stomach-cutting). His last memory is of "someone" removing the stiletto from his abdomen and his blood flowing into the grass.
The Janitor is still in the interrogation room, exhausted. He describes the beauty and the horrors of New York City in 1951 ("Light In the East"). Again he walks home through Central Park that night. He finds the Husband, pulls the knife out of the body and flees the scene. Everyone appears as a collage of voices, telling their statements, sometimes in unison but often interjecting with their own skewed perspectives on the truth.
Act 2 – "Morito" and "Gloryday"
Back in feudal Japan, Morito, Kesa's lover, tells wistfully of their final night together ("Morito"). Morito has planned to murder Kesa just as she has plotted to kill him, but the audience is left in doubt as to who was the successful killer, the scene ends with Morito strangling Kesa as she reaches for her knife. Reality and truth depend on whose perspective one believes. Kesa sees murdering Morito as a way to cleanse herself of her guilt and shame, while Morito believes he is bringing justice to Kesa and renewing his honor.
In New York City in 2002, the meek priest Michael is in confession with his Monsignor. The Priest has lost his faith in the wake of "the tragedy" (alluding to, but not directly referencing the September 11 attacks), having failed to bring comfort to his flock ("Confession/Last Year"). He reminisces about the first time he realized his calling to become a priest, telling his Aunt about it. The Aunt is a spitfire communist and an atheist. She reminds the Priest of all the flaws and wrongdoings in the world and berates him for being "a gullible dope", falling for "The Greatest Practical Joke" of humanity: religion.
The Priest walks through Central Park to clear his mind, where he conceives a great hoax. He decides to stage a false miracle in the park. He posts fliers around the park emblazoned with the message: "In three weeks, on Tuesday, at 1 p.m. sharp, a miracle will occur here in Central Park... from the depths of the pond Christ will appear, believe and be free" ("First Message"). He meets a former C.P.A., a filthy wild man in tattered business attire. The C.P.A. becomes inspired by the Priest's message ("Central Park"). He tells of his former life as an adultering, lying, disgustingly wealthy accountant. Worried that God "doesn't see [his] life", he goes to the park, where he discovers his true calling, "to live free and wild". Yet, he remains desperate for a life with purpose, where God sees him as special and unique.
The Priest meets an Actress named Deanna as he posts new fliers in the park ("Second Message"). She is jittery, jumping from one subject to the next. She seduces the Priest, and the two have sex behind a bush in the park. Visibly distraught, she explains that she is struggling with cocaine addiction. She had found success in a coffee commercial, which she calls "residual heaven" ("Coffee"). To celebrate her success, her soap opera-actor boyfriend and she binge on cocaine and vodka and go for a drive in their Jaguar through Beverly Hills. The car flies off a cliff, and the actress breaks her neck, legs, nose and arms: "ouch right?". Her wrecked face draws bad press, and her coffee commercial is withdrawn. She consoles herself with morphine and barbiturates. She tells the Priest that she hopes the miracle occurs, because she could use some hope in her life.
The Priest visits his Aunt Monica again and discovers she is dying. The TV news program she is watching shows the hordes of people gathering in Central Park for the "Gloryday". The Priest goes to the park to see what he has created. He enters a bar across the street from the park where he meets Aaron, the Reporter on the news program. The Reporter mentions that he has met the Priest before, on the day of "the tragedy". He was running away from the disaster, while the Priest was running toward it. The Reporter says that he, like the Priest, is looking for answers ("Curiosity"). The other characters appear, lighting candles and praying as the Priest emotionlessly "admires [his] handicraft" ("Prayer").
With one hour left until the miracle the Priest giddily points out souvenir salesmen, religious groups and celebrities ("Feed the Lions"). He is grabbed by The CPA who says that he knows The Priest's secret...he is an angel. Deanna finds the Priest and thanks him for giving her hope. Finally, the Priest sees his Aunt, who, despite being in great pain, has made her way to the park. She confesses that she has lied all these years: she knows that there is a God, and she knows that "There Will Be a Miracle". She falls asleep on a park bench, telling her nephew to wake her when the Gloryday arrives. With a few minutes left, the crowd joins in "Prayer" for forgiveness, and the Priest has a change of heart. He runs around screaming that it was a joke and that everyone should go home. Now Deanna, the CPA, the Reporter and Aunt Monica describe the scene: The sky goes black, a harsh wind picks up, lightning flashes, mist hangs in the air, the earth trembles, and a tornado hits the lake. Everyone flees, pulling coats over their heads to protect themselves from the dust and debris. The Priest tries to stop them, but he is left standing alone. Looking back, he sees something "Rising Up" from the pond, and he sobs as he sees the Glory. In rapture, he races around, but no one else has seen it. The Reporter, the C.P.A. and Deanna are angry. He wakes Aunt Monica and tells her about it, asking if she believes him. She replies, "If you say so baby, why not?"
Back in the confessional, the Priest tells his Monsignor that he put the collar back on a month later at Aunt Monica's funeral, but he is still confused about his faith. He created a lie for the masses that became a truth for only himself, and he doesn't know what to do. Everyone repeats "the truth" as church bells chime.
2 women and 3 men, with doubling.
Kesa and Morito
Scenes and settings
- Kesa and Morito is set in medieval Japan
- R shomon is set in 1951, New York City
- Gloryday is set in the present, New York City