Play Preview: Japanese Comedies to be Performed at St. Mary’s

In November, students and staff are invited to watch a unique performance entitled “Laughing at Life: a Performance of Kyôgen Plays.” Directed by Theater, Film, and Media Professor Holly Blumner, the play includes four short comical skits in the Kyôgen play form, which originated in Japan in the fourteenth century.

“They used to be performed in between very long, very somber plays that were influenced by Buddhism,” Blumner said. “They are actually very short. We are doing four short plays; there will be three twenty to twenty five minute plays and one seven-minute play. The seven-minute play will be performed in the Japanese language.”

The play in Japanese is called “Iroha: Learning the Alphabet”, and it presents a challenge to the actors who will have to learn to say the lines phonetically. In this play, a father teaches his son the Japanese alphabet, but the child has difficulty concentrating, and gives his father a hard time. According to Blumner, the audience will be provided with English supertitles above the stage so you can read what the actors are saying even though they will be speaking in Japanese.

Another short play is called “Busu: Delicious Poison”, and involves a master, played by Adebisi Tiamiyu, who has two servants. The master doesn’t want his servants to cause any trouble, so he tells them not to touch his barrel because it is allegedly full of poison. Naturally, The servants become extremely curious about it and they end up opening this poison; only to find that it is really sugar. They proceed to consume all of the sugar and develop what Blumner described as a sugar high. After a plethora of silliness, the master comes home and the servants have to explain exactly what happened.

“I am very excited to have a part,” Tiamiyu said. “Especially since I get to be the master. I have never been apart of any other play.”

Another play, entitled “Utsubozaru: The Monkey Bow-Quiver” involves three characters, a monkey, a monkey trainer, and a Japanese lord, called a Daimyô. The Daimyô sees the monkey when he is hunting, setting up the comedic interaction for the characters.

The final play is called “Bôshibari: Tied to a Pole” and also features the master-servant dynamic often seen in Japanese theater.

“In this play, the master doesn’t want to leave the servants alone with his sake,” said Blumner. “There’s a little bit of mischief as the servants steal the sake and get more than a little tipsy.”

The plays will run from Nov. 8 to Nov. 18.

“I hope the St. Mary’s community will come and see it,” said Blumner. “What I find really interesting about these plays is that although they have their origins in the fourteenth century, you find the themes are often really universal. I think as human beings, we all feel joy, we all crave love, and we all have anger and happiness. It’s just interesting to me that you can still laugh at something that was four hundred years ago and in a different culture; but you can still relate.”

Polaroid Stories is a Brutal, Compelling and Touching Tale

Maxwell Bloch plays D, a drug dealer whose character mirrors Dionysus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. (Photo by Rowan Copley)
Maxwell Bloch plays D, a drug dealer whose character mirrors Dionysus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. (Photo by Rowan Copley)

As the sound of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blasts in my ears in the Bruce Davis Theater, the darkness and neon lights begin to brighten and reveal a stage filled with metal fences, a dirty old couch and tons of graffiti. Fourteen actors walk across stage sporadically, all with intense glares and clad in crazy clothes. One by one, I see blue hair, combat boots, an unshaven face, a Mohawk, a glitter tube top, a schoolgirl outfit and an Asian-inspired men’s jacket all float from corner to corner of the theater. All of a sudden, the lights go out and a beautiful girl in a white dress begins to sing a simple tune. After all of this commotion and confusion, I think to myself, “These kids are pretty badass, but what are they on?”

Based on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, “Polaroid Stories” is Naomi Iizuka’s modern take on Greek mythology through the lives of young people living in a city. These people live in the streets and tell their stories (whether they be true or false) to anyone who will listen.

Each character seems to be stuck in a vicious cycle between dissatisfaction with their lives and the escape from it. This dichotomy is a huge source of frustration for most of the characters, making the overall tone of the play powerful and compelling. I could see that each actor had put 100% of their hearts into every moment of emotionally charged project.

One of the most passionate conflicts of this play is that between the troubled Eurydice (played by Catherine Meringolo) and the lovesick Orpheus (played by John Wagner). Eurydice, who wants nothing more than to run away from the city and “see some fireworks”, often uses drugs to mentally escape form the world she cannot leave and make herself “drunk on the river of forgetfulness.” Her lover, Orpheus, wishes for her “passion-fruit flavored” thoughts and is painfully in love with her. After she runs away, Orpheus tells everyone the story of his love with guitar in hand. Their love story ends in a heart-wrenching, brilliantly performed scene.

As the only source of hope and sanity in this play, Philomel (played by Suzanna A. Sample) occasionally wanders around the set to sing- often to Orpheus. Her sweet voice echoes through the room as the characters try to make sense of her and possibly listen to her. I personally felt a possibility for change, for a release of the suffering victims from their dreadful lives.

However, this optimism was crushed during a well-choreographed and somewhat disturbing scene in the second half. Philomel’s reaction to this event – kneeling alone under the light with an expressionless, broken look on her face – tugged at my heart strings for the rest of the night.

Of the many well-written lines of this play, one which continues to enter my thoughts was an observation made by the sassy Persephone (played by Rachel Reckling). In a fit of annoyance and frustration, she exclaims, “Why does the girl always have to be made the fool?”

This century-old yet seemingly fresh question was further displayed by Skinhead Girl (played by Emily Atkins), who in a poetically delivered monologue talks about her past relationships with men through the story of a “princess.” Each man in her life puts up a fence to her, one by one, eventually leaving her in a cage where she feels alone and frightened. The final escape of her shadow into the  light is that of a remarkable and powerful figure that impresses the audience.

Skinhead Girl’s current boyfriend, Skinhead Boy (played by Adam Curtis), is the utter encapsulation of the dissatisfaction of all the characters in this play. In the most striking and emotional scene of the play, D (played by Maxwell Bloch) creepily refuses to give Skinhead Boy any drugs unless he receives a certain “reimbursement” of his own. After threatening him with a gun and harsh words, D ruthlessly beats Skinhead Boy. As Skinhead Boy’s bloody mouth and shirt are raised against the fence, the whole room grows dark except for the light shining on his face. The enchanting sounds of Sigur Ros begin to play and Skinhead Boy gives a truly touching and unforgettable account of his childhood days in Oregon.

Overall, “Polaroid Stories” was quite the experience. In between the cocaine snorting, crazy dancing and random screams, there was so much rich and raw emotion conveyed by all of the actors. And despite an accident that injured Briana Manente and called for Judy Sellner to learn the role of G in two days, the cast was incredibly concentrated and powerful.

Oh, and if you’re looking to analyze every aspect of the play, don’t bother. Alex Vaughan (who plays an incredible Narcissus), suggests that “Trying to think about it too much makes you lose the point…The show should speak for itself.”

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SubUrbia Guaranteed to Rock Your World

Left to right: Jonathan Wagner as Pony, Adam Curtis as Jeff, Jon Noble as Tim and Alex Vaughan as Buff will perform in the entirely student-run play, subUrbia, the second weekend in December. (Photo by Rowan Copley)
Left to right: Jonathan Wagner as Pony, Adam Curtis as Jeff, Jon Noble as Tim and Alex Vaughan as Buff will perform in the entirely student-run play, subUrbia, the second weekend in December. (Photo by Rowan Copley)

The scene that unfolded outside of the 7-11 involved lots of drama, including drunken vomiting, a girl leaving her boyfriend for another guy, and almost broke out into a fight. However, the 7-11 isn’t built yet, and the director yells cut before anything more can happen.

This definitely isn’t your typical college night. Or maybe it is. It’s rehearsal for a play being directed by Josh Bristol that will be showing Dec. 10-13 at 8p.m., and on Dec. 14 at 2p.m. The play, SubUrbia, centers around five main characters during the course of an evening.

Both Bristol and several actors emphasized how character-driven the play was. “This play is about a group of aimless, disenfranchised, angry youth,” said Bristol, “who have nothing better to do with themselves than stand outside 7-11; drink, smoke, get in fights, and [screw].”

The angry youth are startled out of their usual listless existence when their old friend Pony visits. ?“Once [my character] comes back, it sparks a lot of things that might not have been there,” said Jonathan Wagner, who plays Pony. His character is the only one of the five main characters who has “escaped” the suburbs, and has also achieved mild stardom as a musician. Wagner found the play’s story difficult to describe. “It’s kind of crazy, it’s kind of screwed up.”
“It’s about you, and those guys you knew and hung out with in high school,” said Adam Curtis, who plays Jeff in the play. Alex Vaughan, who plays a drunken “party animal” named Buff, compared the play to the high school drama The Breakfast Club. Other actors in the play include Jon Noble and Emily Atkins.

The Designer is Leon Webers, and the Light Designer is Mary Donahue.

SubUrbia is the first student-directed play since 2005 that is playing on the main stage, according to Bristol. The play is Josh Bristol’s St. Mary’s Project, but he says the amount of oversight is minimal. Bristol’s advisor for the play is Michael Tolaydo, who Bristol said serves more as confidant than as someone with creative control. “Every night in rehearsal it’s only students that are in here,” said Bristol.

“It’s good to get another perspective from someone who is not an established professor of Theatre, Film, and Media Studies,” said Curtis. “It’s good to get someone fresh.”

Bristol said he mostly chose this play because the Theatre, Film, and Media Studies department does a lot of classics and foreign shows, and he wanted to do something “really modern.” SubUrbia was written as a play in 1994 by Eric Bogosian, and was adapted into a film in 1996 directed by Richard Linklater.
“I really like to direct stuff that I have a visceral reaction to when I first read it, and that has characters that I can immediately empathize with.” Bristol felt that the college community would connect to these characters. “I think that only the most non-reflective audience members won’t come into the theatre and see part of themselves onstage, and only the most cold-hearted of the audience will be able to come in here and not feel for the characters… if you grew up in Suburbia, there’s a piece of you in this play somewhere.”