Bunraku: Roben and the Cedar Tree, Zoho Chushingura (良弁杉由来、増補忠臣蔵)

  • Bunraku: 良弁杉由来、増補忠臣蔵  (Roben and the Cedar Tree, Zoho Chushingura)

9/15/18 (Sat), Tokyo

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, and the National Theatre is featuring two productions from that era. After an astounding period of creativity, Bunraku had pretty much halted as a living art in the 18th century, and not many pieces were being written at this point. Whereas the Kabuki world was undertaking some dramatic experiments incorporating Western concepts, these puppet pieces stay safely within the bounds of their predecessors — which is fine when done as well as it is here.   Continue reading

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Kabuki: Yugen (幽玄)

  • Kabuki: 幽玄 (Yugen)

9/12/18 (Wed), Tokyo Kabukiza

All the shows in this month’s evening performance were pieces derived from ancient Noh theater: Sanbaso, a comic take on the austere Okina; the great Shunkan, Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s brash reworking of the old drama; and a new dance piece by National Living Treasure Tamasaburo based on the classics Hagoromo, Shakkyo and Dojoji.

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The Damned (play)

  • The Damned

7/21/18 (Sat), New York

An overwrought stage version of the Visconti film by man-of-the-hour Ivo van Hove, the busy avant-garde Belgian director. He’s best known for his minimalist productions, as in the interesting View from the Bridge, but here he’s taken a sharp turn to maximalist.

The saga, which broadly follows the movie plot, revolves around a rich steel manufacturer who has chosen unwisely to deal with the Nazis just as they are coming to power. The intricate story involves betrayal, greed, murder, suicide, political brutality, incest and other pleasantries, only to result in the end in the loss of the family’s steel plants to Hitler’s regime as the nation marches inexorably toward war.

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Carmen Jones

  • Carmen Jones

7/20/18 (Fri), New York Off Broadway

Oscar Hammerstein II completed this English-language version of Carmen, reset in a black community in wartime America, just before turning to the starkly different world of Carousel, which I saw on Broadway a few days earlier. Carmen feels almost like a musical in the first place (Carousel, for that matter, sometimes feels like opera), so it makes much more sense as a Broadway show than, say, the La Boheme staging some years back. Still, the vocal requirements for this show must be a killer for an eight-performance week, and other issues, not least some less-than-PC black dialect, make productions pretty rare – the last time I saw it was in London several decades ago. So I wasn’t going to miss this.

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