Yuriko Doi and The Theatre of Yugen

31 Mar

Over thirty five years ago, Yuriko Doi started The Theatre of Yugen. March 17 Yuriko returned in a poignant comedy rare in the Kyogen dramatic repertoire.

For those unfamiliar with Japanese drama, kyogen is the comic relief to Noh, dating from the Ashikagi shogun period of Japan, also known as the Muromachi, 1336-1573. It gave way briefly to the Momoyama before the Tokugawa shogunate closed Japan to the outside world and solidified many of the practices we so romanticize about Japanese culture. Kyogen shared the same stage as Noh, employs masks, but concentrates on the merriment or mishaps of the common people, quite broad and gutsy, if highly stylized and equally rigorous in its training and execution. The cast usually numbers three individuals and the episode is usually quite small.

Don Kenny, the American exponent of kyogen, translator of the repertoire, and a fellow student with Yuriko Doi under Mansaku Nomura, has described kyogen training as proceeding more or less all at once, speaking, singing and acting rather than breaking down the components. This training proceeds with learning the particular walk used in kyogen which is slightly different than in classical noh, but achieved only with endless practice.

Out of a series of four, March 17 saw two divergent offerings, The Persimmon Mt. Priest, Kaki Yamabushi, and The Headwaters, Kawakami, with Yuriko Doi. The selections mirrored the raucous and the delicacy possible within kyogen style

One can’t exactly blame a thirsty monk for substituting a kaki for water. It’s just that he goes a little overboard, as who wouldn’t with delicious kaki, its shape memorialized in a famous Zen painting – no gooey hachiyas here. The farmer finds him and no amount of accrued power assists the priest.

Kawakami is as elegaic as Kaki Yamabushi is robust. A signal lesson in the price one pays for getting what one wants, a blind man travels to a shrine of Jizo to try to gain his sight. In a dream he is told he will have his desire if he divorces his wife. Returning home, he experiences his sight, but his wife in unwilling to grant him the condition made in his dream, telling him the gods would not be so unkind as to deprive him of the miracle. Convinced and following her, the brief excursion into sight is taken from him, placing him once again in the care of his wife.

Yuriko Doi’s portrait seemed one with Tokugawa era folk life depictions, her face delicately mirroring the emotions of the blind, a recipient of a miracle, the yielding to the deep relationship between husband and wife.

Other program participants were: Sheila Berotti; Sheila Devitt; Alexander Lydon; Karen Merek; Jubilith Moore.

Chiroi Miyagawa’s The Lingering Life is scheduled June 5-14 at Z Space, “a distinctly contemporary Western pay with the intensity of nine classical Japanese Noh dramas at its root.”

Given the careful training and nurturing by Theatre of Yugen, of the Japanese classical tradition, June should be anticipated with excitement.

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