Odessa sits in her apartment making coffee, computer on. On a screen, the audience sees that she logs onto an internet forum as Haikumom. She writes a morning greeting and then composes a haiku about planting flowers. Orangutan logs on and announces, “Ninety-one days.” Chutes&Ladders also logs on, and both he and Haikumom are relieved, having thought that Orangutan had “disappeared back to the jungle.” Chutes&Ladders gently chastises Orangutan for not logging on for three months, saying, “No news is bad news.”
It is made immediately clear that the forum is a small, tight-knit community who are genuinely concerned for each other. This closeness will make Orangutan’s eventual realization that she needs real human connection, not just internet relationships, all the more potent. Haikumom’s name is apt, since she occupies a motherly role within the forum as the administrator.
However, Orangutan tells them that she moved from Maine to Japan to take a teaching job and that she had shown her parents, who had “completely cut [her] off,” the forum and everything she’d written; “for once, they understood,” and bought her a one-way ticket to Japan. Orangutan seems happy there, saying she feels more normal than she ever has and uses her paychecks to buy things that are completely legal, such as “ice cream, noodles, and socks.” She calls Japan her “homeland” revealing to the other two forum members that she is Japanese, though she was adopted by Americans from Maine and given a new English name, which she almost shares before thinking better of it. As she is telling her story, Chutes&Ladders makes a reference to “that little white rock.”
Orangutan’s primary desire is simply to feel like a normal human being, which is a desire that will be expressed by most of the characters in the story at one time or another. It is notable that throughout the play, which deals heavily in human suffering, the characters are not joining the stereotypical struggle to “reach for your dreams” but merely trying to reestablish a baseline of normalcy. This indicates the way in which addiction, poverty, and its concurrent effects can derail an individual’s life to the point where normalcy is the greatest dream. “That little white rock” refers to crack cocaine, setting drug addiction as the context of the forum member’s relationships.
Orangutan mentions that from the Hokkaido café she sits in, she can see the ocean. When Haikumom asks if she ever goes swimming, Orangutan answers, “I’m just a looker. I was never one to actually have an experience.” Chutes&Ladders shares that he fears the ocean almost as much as “landing on a sliding board square,” sharing a story about the time that, as a younger man, he was at the beach with his friends when a riptide pulled him out into the deep water. His lungs filled with water and he sank to the ocean floor, convinced he would die, when a lifeguard rescued him. After vomiting salt water, Chutes&Ladders stood up and the onlookers applauded him, celebrating the fact that he is alive. Chutes&Ladders decided on that day to turn his life around and get himself into group therapy. Orangutan is touched by the story, though maintains her sarcasm, while Haikumom promises that she is going to buy Chutes&Ladders a pair of water wings.
Orangutan’s admission of only being a “looker” establishes her as a fundamentally passive character. This sets the baseline from which her character arc will develop as she realizes that she wants real human connections and actively extends herself to pursue them. For another person, such an extension might not seem extraordinary. But for a character who identifies themselves as fundamentally passive, such an extension is courageous and even heroic. Once again, the applause Chutes&Ladders receives for merely being alive sets normalcy as the primary target that most characters aim for; Chutes&Ladders is not seeking any impressive achievements, merely to live. The crowd’s applause suggests that that is a worthy enough goal.