BISMARCK (working title)

Thanks to the Trump administration, the phrase “fake news” has become a ubiquitous trope. And like a self-fulfilling prophesy, it has also, sadly, proliferated. Facebook feeds are full of half-truths and under-investigated reports that whip up partisan indignation while Twitter’s 140-character limit washes any story clean of nuance.

In the winter of 2001, a young Japanese woman named Takako Konishi, was found wandering the icy streets of Bismarck, North Dakota wearing a miniskirt, a cropped faux-fur jacket, and no hat or gloves. Clearly, she was not dressed for the dead of a North Dakota winter. Two police officers brought her to the stationhouse to warm her up with a cup of tea, and to find out if she needed help. She spoke only Japanese; they spoke only English. (They called the local China Dragon restaurant for a translator, but unsurprisingly no one there spoke Japanese either.) Through non-verbal communication, the police officers deduced that she was on her way to Fargo. When she drew a picture of where she was headed (a drawing of a road with a tree by it) one of the officers suddenly realized that she had come to North Dakota to find buried treasure. The Coen Brothers’ 1996 dark comedy “Fargo,” begins with a crawl that identifies it as being based on a true story (which in fact, it is not) and in it, the character played by Steve Buscemi buries loot by the side of the road, but suffers an unfortunate rendezvous with a wood chipper before he can re-claim it. This was the treasure Takako was hunting for.

The police officers brought Takako to the local bus station and helped her buy a ticket for Fargo. One week later, she was found dead, under a tree by the side of the road. Stories quickly spread through the local media about the tragic young Japanese treasure hunter who had died of exposure while looking for riches from the movie “Fargo.” Takako Konishi became an urban legend. But when the coroner ruled her death a suicide (a pharmaceutical overdose) a deeper investigation into her past revealed alternative stories. Most likely, she had planned her own death in the town in which her married ex-lover had grown up. Though her story seemed to fit the facts of the treasure hunter scenario, a sadder alternative story may have been more accurate – one that local press and audiences were less enthusiastic about believing.

BISMARCK is performed by a company of five puppeteer/performers (Lake Simons, Amanda Villalobos, Emma Wiseman, Sifiso Mabena and Mike Chin), with original music by Dan Moses Schreier. The visuals of the piece are stark, winter white and devoid of detail. Multiple projections will signal each object’s function… a chair a table, etc. Other projections styled like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, will continually ask the audience to interpret the action in multiple ways. Played by a non-speaking Bunraku-style puppet, interacting with speaking human actors, Takako becomes a cypher at the center of her own story and, not unlike the police officers in Takako’s story, audiences are left to deduce her narrative and all of the emotional details. Like a Facebook post, denuded of both concrete fact and nuance, Takako’s story imitates fake news with multiple truths and outcomes that the audience members must negotiate for themselves.

Premiering in late 2021, BISMARCK is actively looking for co-commissions.