Janus is a very unique Roman deity who had no Greek equivalent and who therefore was able to retain an independent tradition of his own. The name “Janus,” which is “Ianus” in Latin (because the alphabet initially had no “J”) is related to “Ianua” the Latin word for door. So he was the ianitor (doorkeeper) as well as guardian of the New Year or keeper of the calendar, from which the month “January” takes its name. He is also known as the god of beginnings, endings, gates, doorways, passages, time and duality whose two faces are looking to the future and to the past.
In Ai’s play, Janus, who lives in the 21st century, suffers from split personality. It was the apocalyptic explosion similar to the Big Bang that caused him to split in two. As a result, he is no longer he but he and she. Actually, one of Janus’ faces has been feminine from the beginning, but that part was always suppressed, if not ignored or erased (just as is the case with the feminine pronoun, due to the nature of language which is male-dominated,*) so Janus was considered to be solely “he” – that is, until today. The two separated halves or selves of Janus 1) HE Janus and 2) SHE Janus turn against one another to destroy his/her counterpart.
* So-called generic pronouns are gendered pronouns used to refer to both genders. However, they are always “he” and “him/his,” rather than “she” and “her” (ex. “everyone.”)
HE JANUS: the god of endings. He is slow to understand things and sometimes even appears dull. But in fact, he is not as innocent and naïve as he pretends to be, and wants to get back to the original state, in which he was the dominant one, and recover his masculine power forever. He is skeptical about the apocalyptic explosion and eager to find out who on earth is responsible for it (since it was not he, who caused this particular event to end the world.)
SHE JANUS: the god of beginnings. She is aggressive, domineering, demanding and neither shy to speak her mind nor afraid of hurting others’ (especially He Janus’) feelings. All she wants are her independence and the proper acknowledgement/pronoun she thinks she deserves (“The use of the wrong pronoun is not only profane but obscene. I even believe that it could be bad for your health,” she says at one point.)
This play portrays the moment of Janus’ psychic disintegration and inner battles that ensue. Eventually, only after the two split conflicting parts of this Roman deity, HE Janus and SHE Janus, reach a reconciliation —that is, being no longer “he” or “she” but becoming “they”— does the world come back into existence and restore its peace.
This play explores the themes of gender, identity, duality, power structure and transgenderism. Through the lens of the divided god —He Janus & She Janus— trapped in an apocalyptic world, Ai uses the yin-yang concept, symbol and dynamics to portray the two polarized forces that are forever opposing or conflicting but are also ultimately complementary. (Like yin and yang, they are bound to coexist in a perpetually reciprocal relationship, in which when one waxes, the other wanes, etc. and therefore, as much as She Janus wants to, she can never get rid of He Janus and vice versa.) It can be said that Ai’s approach to these themes is philosophical, but she also includes a lot of physical movement, farcical elements, outrageous happenings, coincidences and mistakes in her story to create comedic effects.
JANUS by Ai
Directed by Finn Ware
Staged Reading on October 3, 2018 at the EXIT Theatre
Ai is a Japanese-born playwright, poet and translator, who is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. She is a member of the Writers Pool for Berkeley Rep Theatre’s PlayGround and a winner of the Austin International Poetry Festival. Her full-length plays include Irene (Z-Space, San Francisco, 2018) Puppet Show (SFSU GreenHouse Festival, 2016,) Reversi (Berkeley School of Theater, 2014,) Reincarnation (Berkeley School of Theater, 2014,) and Lost and Lost (Semifinalist in the Julie Harris Playwright Award Competition, 2010,) and her short plays include Sabu’s Awakening (wrote, directed and made puppets: Theatre of Yugen, 2017,) The Last Humans (ShortLived Competition, PianoFight, 2017,) The Pursuit of Happiness (The Fringe Festival, SFSU, 2017) and One Day (9×9 Breach Once More, Exit Theater, 2017 and The Fringe Festival, SFSU, 2016.) Among her publications are “Breathing of Colors,” “White” and “Black” by New American Writing (Poetry translations, 2016,) “Home” by Di-Vêrsé-City Anthology (Poetry, 2017,) and “Sea of Stories” and “Ӧykü Denizi” by National Geographic (English and Turkish children’s books, wrote and illustrated, 2013.)