- Kabuki: 沓手鳥孤城落月, 漢人韓文手管始 (The Cuckoo, the Solitary Castle and the Sinking Moon; Murder of a Foreign Envoy)
10/17/17 (Tues), Tokyo Kabukiza
The Cuckoo, the Solitary Castle and the Sinking Moon is a piece in the modern Shin Kabuki (New Kabuki) genre by the 20th-century playwright Tsubouchi Shoyo surrounding the historic destruction of Osaka Castle in 1615. Hideyori was supposed to have inherited the mantle of leader after his father’s death but was outwitted by the wily Ieyasu, who is now moving in for the coup de grâce. With the enemy outside the gates, Hideyori’s family and forces debate whether to go down with dignity or run for their lives. The one ace they have is Ieyasu’s granddaughter Princess Sen, who is in a political marriage with Hideyori. They hope that her presence will help waylay an outright massacre by her grandfather. Ieyasu has sent a spy to kidnap her back, but she is being watched vigilantly by Hideyori’s suspicious mother Yodo. The drama concentrates on the emotional toll that the pressure takes on the characters in the besieged castle, most notably a descent by the frantic mother into madness.
- Noh: 盛久, 謀生種, 雷電 (Morihisa, The Hojo Seed, Raiden)
10/15/17 (Sun), Tokyo
Morihisa is a relative rarity that, while long on talk and short on action, proved an intriguing piece. Continue reading
- Film: 心中天網島 (Double Suicide)
Double Suicide (1969) is Masahiro Shinoda’s highly stylized take on Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s 18th-century Bunraku (puppet theater) masterpiece The Love Suicides at Amijima. Chikamatsu does not emerge from this well.
- A Look Back: Young Frankenstein
I’m pleased to see that Young Frankenstein has opened triumphantly in London in a significantly revised version from the less celebrated Broadway original. I’ve always loved the movie, which I saw in its original run, and a stage show seemed like a great idea. Unfortunately, the New York version, which I saw in previews almost precisely ten years ago (Oct 15, 2007), opened against impossible expectations in the wake of the same creative team’s phenomenally successful The Producers, and the producers did themselves no favors by announcing outrageous premium prices (then still a budding concept) before the show even opened. The reaction was perhaps inevitably less than hoped. And I have to say that the middling reception was justified. Continue reading
- Premium tickets: Don’t bring us your poor
Add another exclamation point to Hello, Dolly! The NY Times reports that premium tickets to the mega-hit between now and the departure of superstar Bette Midler in January will go for an eye-popping $998. That “98” sounds like Walmart marking its prices just short of the next dollar mark, and it would be nice to think that the producers are embarrassed enough to want to avoid four figures. But we know, of course, that they don’t care a whit about what anyone thinks given the overwhelming demand and limited supply for their tickets (which will actually cost $1,009 with Ticketmaster’s usurious charges, reaching four figures anyway).
Once upon a time, the theater was at least nominally an egalitarian business: you stood in line, you got your tickets when your turn came around. You knew that everyone else in an orchestra seat paid the same as you did (other than perhaps discounted day seats). Black, white, male, female, American, foreign, tall, short: everyone had an equal chance at getting a ticket. Yes, scalpers always existed, and we all knew that the rich weren’t standing in any line for their tickets. But we could comfort ourselves with the knowledge that scalping at outrageous prices was at least illegal. Now it’s the producers themselves who are charging those prices, claiming that they’re being deprived of all that illegal money. Got it? Instead of finding ways to prevent illegitimate activity, they’ve simply made it legitimate.
They have every right to do so, of course; no one is forcing the public to buy tickets, and allowing supply/demand to determine prices is the very basis of capitalism. The limited supply of tickets has to be allocated somehow, and doing that through pricing is no less legitimate than though first-come, first-served, i.e., time vs. money. What that means in real life, though, is that like elsewhere in our society, the rich go to the front of the ticket line, and you, the not-rich, go to the back. The theatrical community no longer even pretends to be treating everyone equally. Fair enough. But when the largely left-of-center Broadway community goes on about diversity and the poor and undocumented immigrants and all that, their words ring awfully hollow.
- はなれ瞽女おりん (The Blind Minstrel Orin)
10/1/17 (Sun), New National Theatre, Tokyo
The eclectic puppeteer Taira Jo is back with a series of three adult-oriented shows performed over three days. All the dramas highlight women, making for a theme of sorts, though that’s the only thing in common among them. Yesterday was Medea, a revival of the excellent production I saw some years back, and tomorrow is a piece by the aggressively avant-garde Terayama Shuji. Today’s sounded like a safer bet. This story was originally a 1974 play, which was novelized the following year and made into a film by Shinoda Masahiro in 1977 under the name “Ballad of Orin”, which I have not seen. Taira again played all the roles, helped by three hooded kurogo stagehands.
Reviewing Prince of Broadway in Tokyo a few years back, I had made some suggestions on how the creators might have approached the material. I had been hoping for interesting tidbits on the art of producing/directing or even backstage stories rather than just random songs in their original stagings. Harold Prince wanted to present the “arc” of his shows by staging representative numbers, but setting aside whether that’s even possible, that’s not what we got, at least in Tokyo (does “The Ladies Who Lunch” really show the arc of Company, for example?). And it’s not necessarily what we wanted.
With the show on Broadway now (apparently in much the same format), I’ve been asked — challenged, really — to elaborate. I like a dare, so here are a few examples of the kind of show I would have liked to have seen. I don’t pretend to be a writer – I took these from vague recollections of articles and interviews with a few quotes thrown in and made up most of the rest – but I wasn’t as interested in the details as in conveying the general concept. Hopefully it will get the point across.