Friday, December 6, 2002

Two dimwitted servants outwit their master in "Tied to a Pole."

UH tackles
Asian drama lite

Simple plots prove key to Japanese comedy

By John Berger

Traditional Asian theater is often viewed with trepidation by Americans who assume that it is either impossibly arcane or else is relevant only to Asian-Americans three or four generations removed who are trying to connect with the culture of their ancestors.

It's certainly true that the subtleties of Chinese opera and Japanese Noh and Kabuki theater require at least a little prior study to appreciate even when the performers are speaking English. But Julie A. Iezzi, who's directing "Kyogen: Laughter For All Time" on the Kennedy Theatre mainstage this month, says that kyogen -- a style of Japanese comic theater -- shouldn't be pigeonholed as such.

Chihiro Hosono stars in "The Washing River."

"I think, of all the Japanese forms, it's the most accessible," Iezzi said. "It doesn't have complicated plots, the form itself is very simple -- which doesn't mean 'easy to perform' -- but you can watch a play and get it right away. The characters are everyday, nameless people caught in common situations that everyone can relate to."

A quick synopsis of Iezzi's production, made up of three short, comic stories, proves the point. One of the stories is about two servants trying to get into their master's sake supply. Another finds a henpecked man looking for a way to deal with his demanding wife and irksome mother-in-law.

"Of the three plays we're doing, two of them are traditional. The third is now part of the repertoire but, however, was not originally a kyogen (play), but a medieval French farce that was adapted to kyogen in the '50s. So even in Japan, when they do this play, it morphs a great deal depending on who's performing it and what the venue is. We've continued that tradition."

Each story is told with a cast of three performers. Iezzi has double-cast all but one of the roles so that more students can share the training experience. Three kyogen masters from Japan helped with the preparations.

One result, Iezzi says, is that two distinct versions of each story will be presented in the course of the six public performances at Kennedy Theatre this month. The acting teams will also go out into the community in the spring for performances in schools and libraries. Iezzi hopes that these smaller performances will help introduce kyogen, and live theater in general, to a larger audience here in Hawaii.

"There's no learning curve ... What you see is what you get. The movements are very broad and very simple (to understand)," Iezzi said, explaining that kyogen was developed about 600 years ago as outdoor entertainment, so it works well outside the usual boundaries of the proscenium.

Iezzi herself discovered kyogen in 1985 while she was studying Japanese literature and history in Kyoto, Japan. An introduction to a kyogen teacher led to three years of study with the Shigeyama Sengoro kyogen family.

"One of the neat things about this family is that they're very active in kyogen. These guys are doing three or four performances a day and, in addition, they're doing non-kyogen things. They've done a lot to popularize kyogen (in Japan) with school performances and just bringing it to the people so that it's not like Noh or, in some sense, Kabuki, that's removed from the population. People know that it's fun to go and see and performances get sold out because of its accessibility.

"It's a wonderful evening of laughter," she said.

'Kyogen: Laughter For All Time'

Where: Kennedy Theatre, UH-Manoa
When: 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, (Fri/Sat) with additional shows on Dec. 12 to 14, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15
Tickets: $12 general; $10 for seniors, military and UH faculty and staff; $8 for non-UHM students and $3 for UHM students with valid Fall '02 photo ID
Call: 956-7655
Note: A pre-show discussion of kyogen theater will be conducted one hour before the Saturday performances

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