Jean Marie Ward

fiction, nonfiction and all points in between
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Kabuki Is As Kabuki Does

Feeling a bit like Forrest Gump here.  Saw my first Kabuki with Greg earlier this evening, and I’m still processing.
Not that the production wasn’t spectacular.  The Japan-America Society of Washington, DC, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by bringing in top Kabuki actor Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII and his troupe to perform Kanjincho (the first Kabuki play ever to be performed before the Emperor of Japan) and the comedy Migawari Zazen.
It was incredibly weird and wonderful.  The orchestra (a flute, drums, shamisens and eerie sounding singers) sits on a bi-level, red-draped dais at the back or side of the stage.  Aristocratic male characters wander around in pants two feet longer than their legs, necessitating an on-stage handler to keep their clothing in line.  These koken, or “invisible” stagehands, remain on the stage for the duration.  The costumes are over-the-top fabulous–so over the top the white make-up seems almost restrained.
But I couldn’t help it.  Every time I looked at Kanzaburo as Togashi in Kanjincho, I kept expecting him to launch into The Mikado.  The shamisens make me think of the Yoshido Brothers, which is a little more culturally relevant…but only a little.
I dearly wish someone had provided surtitles like they do at most operas.  Not knowing any more than the scene outlines of the two stories left me very much at sea.  Which meant my favorite moment in the evening happened at the end of Migawari Zazen, when Kanzaburo as the unfaithful husband who’s about to get creamed by his much bigger wife sputtered in English: “Wait a minute!  Wait a minute!  Honey, it’s not what you think.  Really, I was just at the Nationals’ game.”
The venue, DC’s Warner Theatre, was a trip in itself.  It was built during the 1920s for vaudeville and silent movies.  Harry Warner, one of the Warner Brothers, liked it so much he insisted on the family name going on the marquee.  The last time I was there (when James Earl Jones and Christopher Plummer played Othello) all the plaster reliefs had been painted white and were crumbling as I watched.  I spent most of the production staring at what was left of the ceiling wondering which way to duck.
Now it’s a palace.  Every relief has been lovingly restored and gold-leafed.  There are heavily swagged velvet drapes and enormous, vintage chandeliers reflecting all that burnished gold.  Seeing a movie at the Warner in its heyday must’ve been an event.
And next month it’s hosting Weird Al Yankovic.  You know, that says a lot about this town.  :D
Hugs and grins,
Jean Marie

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Posted in Blog 6 years, 12 months ago at 2:13 am.

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