Janus is a very unique Roman deity who has no Greek equivalent. The name “Janus,” which is “Ianus” in Latin (there was initially no “J” in the alphabet) 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, after which the month “January” is named. He is also known as the God of beginnings, endings, gates, doorways, passages, time and duality whose two faces are looking to two opposite directions: the future and the past.
Janus, who lives in the 21st century, suffers from split personality. It was an apocalyptic explosion similar to the Big Bang that caused him to be split in two. As a result, he is no longer a “he,” but became “he” and “she.” Indeed, one of Janus’ faces has always been feminine from the beginning, but that part was suppressed, if not ignored or even 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 as enemies.
* So-called generic pronouns are gendered pronouns used to refer to both genders. But 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 even appears dull at times. But actually, he is not as innocent or naïve as he pretends to be, and conspires to get back to the original state, in which he is the dominant one, and to recover his masculine power forever.
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 is her independence or 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, which portrays the moment of Janus’ psychic disintegration and inner battles that ensue, explores the themes of gender, identity, duality, power structure and transgenderism. Through the lenses of the divided Gods —He Janus & She Janus— who are 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.) Ai’s approach to these themes is philosophical, but she also includes a lot of physical movements, farcical elements and outrageous happenings to create comedic effects.
JANUS by Ai
Directed by Finn Ware
Staged Reading on October 3, 2018 at the EXIT Theatre
Pam Drummer-Williams (Juno)
Alisha Ehrlich (Eagle/Stage Directions)
Wiley Kornbluh (Messenger/Blind Cleaner/Police/They Traveler)
Kelly Rinehart (She-Janus)
Miguel Ramirez (He-Janus)
Karl Wieser (Jupiter)
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.)
The image of Janus was created by Donald Bolin.