A Noh Christmas Carol, directed by Nick Ishimaru

Around this time of year, theater companies stage many traditional shows, Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” being one of them.  For one that its truly unique, plan to see the Theatre of Yugens “Noh Christmas Carol”.

From the Web site Home Page:

“The reimagined story in Meiji era Japan is told using a combination of noh, kyogen, kabuki, and butoh, bringing this classic story to life in a fashion like no other production does.

Ebezo Sukurooji [Ebenezer Scrooge] receives a visit from his deceased business partner Jakubei Mashima [Jacob Marley] warning him to change his miserly ways or be doomed to linger forever as a hungry ghost. The miraculous intervention of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet-To-Come take Sukurooji on a wondrous journey through life and time in a profound attempt to remind him of the value of life beyond business and profit.”

For the third year in a row, Theatre of Yugen has presented this production.  Adapted from Dickens’ story by Yuriko Doi and Cienna Stewart, A Noh Christmas Carol is a wonderfully imaginative play using Japanese Noh theater techniques.  Doi and Stewart’s adaptation follows Dickens and the adapted play, assiduously. However, to the Theatre’s credit, he has whittled down this lengthy story to an hour and a half performance with no intermission.  Still everything is there.  The proper names of the characters have a Japanese pronunciation. The spelling in the program is pronounced  in phonetic English.  For example: Scrooge is listed as Sukurooji (Sukurooji Ezbo or Ebrnezer Scrooge), beautifully played by Ryan Marchand.  Jacob (Mashima Jakubei), Scrooge’s deceased partner,  is played by Kate Patrick, who hobbles about in chains and sparse, raggedy white wrappings.  Patrick also plays the Ghost of Christmas Present.  Nick Ishimaru, the company’s artistic director, acts as the Kuroko (the guy in black, the one who watches from the back and is more than your typical stagehand).  The Kuroko creates the sound design and musical accents using drums and sticks, and acts as prop master. Meryn Douglass plays the black costumed and masked manipulator of the puppet representing Tiny Tim. Mika Oscarson Kindstrand plays the various female characters.

Ishimaru’s adaptation is highly original.  What makes it extra special are the incredible varied costumes created by designer Liz Brent. The wigs and huge masks are of original Japanese design and fabrics.  Especially MacDougall’s characters:  the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future.  The players’ movements about the stage are exquisite- each step of their tabi adorned feet is deliberately slid or placed, knees bent, their arms almost akimbo.  Turns are executed as pivots on one foot. The dialogue as recited by the actors is spoken in stylistic, sing-song Noh intonations from very low growls, bass notes to almost soprano heights illustrating the players’ varied emotions; perfect for opera singer Roy Eikleberry who plays all the male parts.  The excellent Ryan Marchand as Sukurooji- his yellowish-green makeup shows a perpetually turned down mouth, which perfectly indicates his dismissal of all things sentimental.  He has no idea of the wonders of Christmas and shows no compatibility with others.   He is a curmudgeon.  Despite his makeup, his feelings are evident in his facial expressions.   Sukurooji often seems surprised, disbelieving, then devastated by what he is witnessing as shown to him by the ghosts.  Once enlightened, he experiences an epiphany and makes an about turn, becoming generous and loving.  

“A Noh Christmas Carol” plays tonight,  Fri 12/20. Sat @ 8PM, Sun, 12/21, 4PM. @ 8.  Next weekend. 12/26-29 same. The last performance is on Sunday, December 29th @ 4 PM.  Theatre of Yugen is located at 2840 Mariposa, San Francisco, CA, Street parking.  Muni #22, # 33, stop at 16th and Bryant,  AND the #27 stops  at Bryant and Mariposa! tickets: www.theateofyugen.org