This Train doesn't go off the rails

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Premiering at Alberta Theatre Projects' playRites Festival, Maiko Bae Yamamoto's Train chugs down a path filled with a mystically-tinged family story, metatextuality and some endearing elements that sometimes border on being a little too cute.

Based in both truth and fiction, a Japanese man--played by Yamamoto's real-life father, Minoru Yamamoto--endlessly waits at a train station for the love who will never come. A noodle girl sits and watches day after day, befriending the man and eventually helping him to move on with his life. Off in the distance, a mysterious, celestial woman exists in another timeline, which eventually converges with the former.

Train takes this plot through interesting territory, as the father and daughter Yamamoto play off each other, swapping not only characters in the story several times, but also dominant parental roles with submissive child-like ones throughout the 75 minutes. Yamamoto attempts to let the audience in on the family affair, pointing out some members as stars on the celestial plane in hopes of making the story feel more personal to onlookers. The result is perhaps not a completely familial-feeling one, as it more represents a jarring reality that the play the audience is watching is also looking back at them.

There are also stabs at cute abstractness, such as both actors breaking into a faux Dance Dance Revolution battle, complete with techno music and flashing lights. While a representation of the Japanese culture that Yamamoto is trying to portray, it seems to jar with the overall sense of the play: not only musically, the techno being a far cry from the play's thematic Japanese flute, but also temporally, as most of the scenes take place in a distant past.

Minimalist set pieces enhanced by strategically-placed lights--not to mention the elder male Yamamoto portraying a noodle girl at some points throughout the act--and scenes that see father and daughter running around in a James Bond-esque style, shooting each other with finger guns, require the audience to suspend disbelief a little too much throughout. The metatextual interjections, including Yamamoto interviewing her father about his real-life experience at that train platform, sometimes require one to completely switch mindsets, making for a somewhat brain-busting experience.

In the end, though, Train's adorable father/daughter moments and the forlorn love story make the production an endearing snapshot into one family's history. While onlookers may not feel like they're part of the Yamamoto family, they can at least feel like they got to know them.

The playRites Festival runs until Sun., Mar. 8. Full schedule and info at atplive.com. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.