Yoshimi battles robots, goofy plot in new play

by David Dixon

It is hard not to go into “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” without high expectations. The musical is directed by Des McAnuff, the man responsible for Tony Award- winning and crowd-pleasing shows, such as “The Who’s Tommy” and “Jersey Boys.” Also, the music is comprised of songs from offbeat rock band, The Flaming Lips.
In modern America, Yoshimi (Kimiko Glenn) is an artist who recently broke up with her boyfriend, Ben (Paul Nolan). She immediately rebounds into another relationship with a stockbroker, Booker (Nik Walker); but Yoshimi faints shortly thereafter.
In a hospital, Dr. Peterson (Tom Hewitt) tells Yoshimi she has lymphoma and there are pink cells, similar to robots, weakening her body. The doctor persuades the sick woman to fight her disease. Imaginary battles take place on a far away planet, apparently in the past as the program describes it, where Yoshimi tries everything she can to defeat evil pink robots that pose a dangerous threat to
her existence.

Courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse and Kevin Berne

There is no denying how strong the singing is in this production. Glenn has a pure and innocent voice that is enjoyable to listen to. Nolan’s rock vocals bring to mind The Flaming Lips’ lead singer, Wayne Coyne. This might be distracting to some, but he sings musical numbers such as “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and “Do You Realize??” with endless energy. Walker has a mesmerizing presence as Yoshimi’s conflicted boyfriend, Booker. His rendition of “Waiting for a Superman” is powerful and a highlight of
the evening.
The staging of “Yoshimi” is full of memorable and evocative visual imagery. Frequent use of projectors, created by video and projection designer Sean Nieuwenhuis, aren’t too flashy and actually play an important role in the plot.
Yoshimi has to face a lot of pink robots, but the most unforgettable one is the 14-foot leader, 3000-21. Out of the imagination of puppetry designer Basil Twist, the gigantic machine is similar to something out of a big-budget science fiction blockbuster.
Unfortunately, despite the great singing and stagecraft, I cannot recommend this world-premiere play. The big issue is the story written by Coyne and McAnuff.
While practically every song would work when watching The Flaming Lips perform live, a lot of the tunes are incorporated in a forced way.
In addition, the characters are poorly written. The audience should be rooting for Ben to start dating Yoshimi again, but instead he comes across as a stalker who cannot accept being without her. This is not Nolan’s fault, but how his role is developed by
the writers.
Peterson gets the lion’s share of spoken dialogue, which is mostly used to describe Yoshimi’s disease. Hewitt is forced to say some over-the-top and unintentionally campy lines when he tells Yoshimi to go to battle with the pink robots. This should make us want to cheer for her to become a warrior, but instead I was flabbergasted by how ridiculously this part of the adventure was set up.
While “Yoshimi” can be both an engaging visual and audio experience, the unsatisfying story results in a disappointing misfire. This causes spectators to be emotionally uninvested in the fate of the characters. Fortunately, McAnuff always recovers from the occasional bomb such as “Dracula, the Musical” with a hit like “700 Sundays.” Based on his past, he will go on to make another great piece of entertainment soon.
Tickets and information about “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” can be found at lajollaplay
house com.