The Gray Bunny (graybunny) wrote,
The Gray Bunny
graybunny

Kabuki

Speaking of going to arts events in Seattle, I went to see a Kabuki performance at the Paramount Theater last Sunday. Since it was Sunday, I didn't have to play the game of staying at work as long as possible versus guessing how bad the traffic will be. However, when I got there, I discovered that my usual parking lot is now a construction site. I followed some signs which promised parking, but they led nowhere, so I circled around to a small, out-of-the-way lot which I'd noticed on my way there. It was far enough away to be cheap, a little scrap of land perched on the lip of a steep hillside. I'm not sure this counts as bad luck, compared to the fiasco which started this streak or the near-fiasco with the Symphony last night, but it underlines that going into central Seattle is a real nuisance at best. I'm glad that tonight's entertainment (The Pirates of Penzance) is in Redmond, just a couple miles from work.

The Paramount Theater was hosting the Chikamatsu-za troupe of the Shochiku Grand Kabuki, the first stop on their North American tour. The first work they presented was described as a "comic dance", entitled "Tied to a Pole". The master of the house ties up his two servants to keep them out of his sake, without success. I watched this one without the English-commentary headset; I probably missed some jokes in the dialog but most of the humor was purely physical, the Japanese equivalent of slapstick. The actors were very good at body language, and it was easy to forget that they weren't really drunk.

The second work, after an intermission, was Sonezaki Shinju ("Love Suicides at Sonezaki") by Chikamatsu Monzaemon (yes, the troupe is named after him). During the intermission I got a headset and I'm glad I did, otherwise I would only have followed the broadest outlines of the story.

I went expecting something so stylized as to be nearly incomprehensible, but that's not what I found — maybe I was thinking of Noh instead of Kabuki? I don't believe that they Westernized the performance in any way, but it is possible that they picked works and/or a style with an eye toward their audience. (I overheard that they were working in the Osaka style, which was described as "very broad".) Either way, both works were essentially just plays in another language, very accessible, especially to anyone with even a basic knowledge of traditional Japanese culture.

That said, there were some distinct departures from Western theatrical traditions. All three acts of Sonezaki Shinju had musical accompaniment, but in the second and third acts the music had vocals as well, chanters who narrated parts of the story. Also, throughout both works, male roles were acted naturalistically but female roles were more stylized, especially in the way they delivered their lines. It wasn't just the high-pitched female voice familiar to anyone who watched anime with a Japanese soundtrack; this was a nasal and very drawn-out delivery.

As is traditional for Kabuki, I gather, it was an all-male cast. In Sonezaki Shinju, the male lead was the female lead's son. I have to wonder how it feels to be flirting with your father. Of course, if you've been raised in the theater since childhood, it's probably all in a day's work.
Tags: event report
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