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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 11, 2002

UH production brings Japanese kyogen style to English audience

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Theater Critic

 •  'Kyogen: Laughter for All Time'

Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawai'i-Manoa

8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

$12, $10, $8, $3


Continuing its tradition of presenting English-language productions of traditional Asian theater styles, the University of Hawai'i offers "Kyogen: Laughter for All Time" on the Kennedy Theatre main stage.

Kyogen has a 600-year-old history of providing comic balance to the serious Japanese noh theater, with stock characters, simple stories and an emphasis on vernacular dialogue. They are short farces that alternate with or are included within the noh dramas to provide comic relief. Movement is less stylized and costumes can be complex, but are far less elaborate than those used in noh. The actors are mostly unmasked and appear without orchestra.

This is the university's first all-kyogen production, a collection of three short plays translated and directed by Julie Iezzi, featuring a cast of students trained by master teachers Akira Shigeyama, Yasushi Maruishi and Doji Shigeyama.

Sandra Finney coordinates the costumes and Kelly Berry designs a simple wooden platform set with stylized accents that include Christmas elements in final play. The performances are double cast with actors appearing on alternate nights. According to their master teacher, they have learned their parts well.

If you can't attend one of the pre-performance lecture/demonstrations, perhaps the best way to prepare is simply to empty your mind of all preconceptions. Let the performance stand alone and allow the simple comedies to unfold.

The first two plays pit scheming servants against their suspicious masters.

In "Tied to a Pole," the master ties up two servants to keep them from drinking his sake while he is away for the day. The ingenious rascals nevertheless find a way to get into the liquor and their increasing incapacitation is a source of delight.

The plot of "The Snail" is more obscure, and one senses that it might be a 14th- century Japanese precursor of Abbot and Costello's routine, "Who's on First."

The last play centers on a henpecked husband, his dominating wife, and his furious mother-in-law. When he takes too long to finish the laundry, the women prepare a list of all his tasks.

"Do you mean, if it's not on the list, I don't have to do it?" he asks. When the wife falls into the river, he dutifully scans the list and refuses to lift a finger.

That's a situation that even Archie Bunker could love.

"Kyogen: Laughter for All Time" offers a quiet and gentle respite from a busy holiday season.