A Noh Christmas Carol, directed by Nick Ishaimaru
(l.) Steve Flores as Jakubei with (r.) Simone Bloch as Sukurooji
Theatre of Yugen closed its sold-out December run last Sunday at its theatre on Mariposa and Alabama of the old saw: Dickens’ The Christmas Carol, christening it, “A Noh Christmas Carol”. Director Nick Ishaimaru had created an unique and successful production of he play. He has an extensive education in Western, Japanese, and other Asian theatre forms, from San Francisco State, Colorado State U., and the University of Hawaii.
Since its founding in 1978 by Yuriko Doi, Theatre of Yugen has produced works of world theatre not only by creating original works, but also exploring dramatic and literary classics, such as the above. Yugen is a 600 year old (the world’s oldest) living style of theatre, i. e., Japanese Noh. Full disclosure: I am familiar with Noh Theatre and Butoh, a contemporary version created after the Second World War as an anti-war expression, having incorporated its essence in my own Mask and Mime solo movement performances throughout the 1970s-1990s.
Theatre of Yugen never disappoints. Ishaimaru built his production on the bare bones of Dickens’s original, retaining the basic plot with the miserly boss Sukurooji (Scrooge) played by an excellent Simone Bloch; Jakubei, i.e. Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s deceased partner, groaning, as he drags and rattles heavy chains (Steven Flores, in white body-paint, dhoti, exaggerated eye make-up, and scraggly black wig), and his clerk and nephew, Bob Cratchit. Zoe Chien and Steven Flores, acted the parts of the men in the story, Mikah Kavita played the women. The stately, ethereal beauty, Rachael Richman, played the gorgeously costumed, masked and wigged, Christmas Ghosts: Past, Present, and Yet-to-Come. The actors’ dialogue was perfectly expressed in the Noh manner: sing-song, with gruff, drawn out vowels. Their movements slow, deliberate. Steven Flores also performed percussive accents on wooden blocks backing up the actors’ dialogue. I anticipated the arrival of Tiny Tim. How, who, or what would play the role of the crippled child?
I was not disappointed but elated and charmed by what I saw: Steven Flores, as puppetmaster, dressed all in black (as set- changers and puppetmasters, etc. are in Noh Theatre), entered the stage with a small faceless puppet (ningyō) attached to his feet, body, and wrists in the bunraku style. This was Tiny Tim, or Tomochan. Flores, almost invisible, taking tiny steps, became Tomochan.
I cannot say enough about the elaborate and sumptuous, what-looked-to be, authentic costumes, masks and wigs by Liz Brent! Especially as worn by Rachael Richman, portraying the three Ghosts. Brent had lived in Japan after graduating from Colorado U Boulder before moving to the Bay Area. She has said that she loves designing for Theatre of Yugen as she gets to incorporate her love of Japanese culture and fashion with historic fashion details, and otherworldly elements. Everything about the production was perfect. Praises for the support team: The simple set (Josh McDerm0tt) consisted of an huge wooden upright circle through which the actors stepped; pillows, a rectangular bench serving as a table and a bed; Ella Cooley designed the sound and Cassie Barnes, lighting; Mel Ramirez as Stage Manager kept everything running smoothly.
Please mark your calendars for Theatre Yugen’s next production: “Helen” by Ellen McLaughlin, based on the Greek myth of Helen of Troy, March 29th-April 27. You will be enchanted and mesmerized. Theatre of Yugen is located at 2840 Mariposa Street, San Francisco. Website: theatreofyugen.org