Sun Tzu’s The Art of War

I actually have some history with this text — there was a little black book in my father’s study when I was growing up that had a translation of this, that I was obsessed with for about a month, even trying to use it as the basis for a short story (which was, no doubt, a significant step up from the Dragonlance novels that were the basis of everything else I wrote at that time). The thing that struck me when I heard about this project was that it’s one of the most atheatrical (there, I’ve used the word in reviews twice today, I’m going to get it into the Fringe lexicon if it kills every one of you) projects I can imagine — there’s no story. No, really. It’s a textbook. A textbook with some flashes of profound insight, a few clever one-liners, and one or two illustrative parables, but for the most part it makes about as much sense as adapting Mathematics: Applications and Concepts.

So it’s remarkable that this show is so successful, because at its core it’s really nothing more than a lecture — a lecture with a heavy dose of schtick slathered over the top, but for the most part the audience really is sitting down and being given a classic tactical manual.

The twist? The illustrations contributed by the ninja, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say mimes dressed as ninja. The text is divided into lessons, and as the lecturer reads, the points are illustrated by rapid-fire knockabout slapstick. This is pretty inventive — there’s puppets, some actual illustrations, and even a mambo at one point. This show rides on its constant visual stimulation.

The schtick starts to wear thin by the end — there’s only so many variations you can make on what is essentially a very simple joke. But it’s a good joke. And you can never, ever, under any circumstances, have too many nut-punches.


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