Balinese puppetry meets Shakespeare's 'Tempest'
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
Larry Reed, a San Francisco-based theatrical innovator, has been fascinated by Balinese shadow puppetry for three decades. This passion has resulted in 20 to 30 productions with shadowy visuals, but "A (Balinese) Tempest" is his most lavish and popular.
The expanded work, with first-time live music, receives its Hawai'i premiere tonight at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa's Kennedy Theatre.
"I've used the same characters, the words of Shakespeare (albeit, abbreviated and edited) and Balinese shadow puppets," said Reed, who is founder and artistic director of ShadowLight Productions of San Francisco.
"I created a new art form, which is not culturally specific, so you can go into any culture and explore the fantasy and mythology," he said.
The Island version encompasses original live music by I Nyoman Sumandhi, a dalang (Balinese puppet master) who directs the UH Balinese Gamelan Ensemble. The music will accent the on-stage visuals.
The Kennedy venture is a rarity for Reed, who admits, "I only do professional theater." He said he was challenged to explore the Asian theater prospects of Kennedy, one of the world's foremost academic theaters specializing periodically on Asian productions such as Beijing opera and Japanese kabuki. Balinese shadow puppets also have been a Manoa staple.
In "A (Balinese) Tempest," he's taken one of the world's oldest tales and imposed an exotic and distinctive flavor embracing shadow puppets manipulated by the actors as they speak the lines of The Bard.
"And it's all quite exciting," Reed said without a modicum of modesty. "We project images of shadow puppets onto a large 15-by-30-foot screen. It's like movie viewing; it's like Cinema-scope. It's fascinating."
And Shakespeare, he said, provides the perfect goods for this concoction: a magical tale mixing comedy with romance, probing themes of reconciliation.
"Shakespeare is good because to begin with, you're dealing with kind of high drama and low drama characteristic of his drama and typical in Balinese theater," said Reed, who has studied and trained in wayang kulit (Balinese shadow puppetry) with the same mentor for nearly 30 years.
The show has deeper, personal meaning, too. "For me, it's completing a full circle — doing this Balinese version of 'The Tempest,' since it is almost like Prospero completing his work and Shakespeare completing his work, too. All those elements were resonating for me with this particular project.
"This is the 10th version of 'Tempest' and every time you do it, you set off different goals," he said. With the visuals and the gamelan sound here, it's "a great experience for the audience."
He trained a local cast of 12 actors in what he calls "a monumental task."
The performers, augmented by a 12-member gamelan orchestra, have to deliver lines while manipulating the puppets to bring shadowed life to the screen.
Reed created some puppets; others were done by the actors.
"The traditional way is to make them out of rawhide, but for this show, we have some poster board (re-creations)," he said. "Everything is handmade and easily accessible; and it's simple, but not easy. The actors have to know when to pick up a puppet, so it's very exacting choreography — a beautiful dance when you watch from backstage."
His purpose of doing this kind of hybrid?
"To introduce people to something new, taking on a new culture. It's a different way of approaching art, communicating excitement," Reed said. "This is not a movie, it's not usual theater, it's not merely a shadow play. It's something completely unique."
Reach Wayne Harada at email@example.com.