Monday, December 24, 2018

Inviting Our Better Ghosts

A Noh Christmas Carol

Jakubei (Stephen Flores) haunting Sukurooji (Simone Bloch) Photo: Shannon Davis

Theatre of Yugen
At Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa Street, San Francisco

Ending December 30, 2018
Fridays at 7 PM, Saturdays at 2 PM and 7 PM, Sundays at 4 PM

We all know how Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the holiday staple that reminds us of the true meaning and magic of the season. We all have ghosts of past present and future, but to see this story presented in a new light by Theatre of Yugen is transformational. (The word Yugen is from the Japanese YU, meaning deep, quiet or otherworldly, and GEN, to mean subtle, profound or obscured).

A Noh Christmas Carol keeps the skeleton of the familiar story with a leap into unknown spiritual dimensions. As practiced as a tea ceremony, as simple as a brush painting, and as clear as a flute, this production is intriguing, engaging, and even disturbing. It’s the story of the miserly Sukurooji (Scrooge) who is callous to the pain of his workers and tenants until he is taught a lesson that he has suppressed all of these see and love life anew, as a child.

Kurando [Cratchit] (Zoe Chien) and his wife (Mikah Kavita) at dinner as Sukurooji [Scrooge] (Simone Bloch) watches happily. Photo: Shannon Davis

Under the direction of Nick Ishimaru, each performer honors the ancient craft and discipline of Noh for a modern stage. Simone Bloch’s Sukurooji is both menacing and kindly, her expressions exaggerated by classic makeup. The chains that bind us into the next life are dragged by the ghost Jakubei (Stephen Flores), a scary and hunched apparition that mouths true agony. Rachel Richman is ethereal and elusive as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet-to-come. Even the invisible koken stage hand moves like a silent spirit.

Stephen Flores as the tortured ghost of Jakubei Photo: Shannon Davis
A sublimely constrained format, like haiku and bonsai, minimalist abundance, is evident in this production. The very simple and deliberate set design features a large portal suggesting the Japanese character Enso, the circle of life’s journey. The music and sounds work subtly to bring a sense of mystery to this very familiar story, making it ring anew.

Set portal Photo: Christine Okon
There is still time to see A Noh Christmas Carol before it ends December 30. It would be a perfect way to celebrate a transition from past to present to future.

A Noh Christmas Carol
Theatre of Yugen

Simone Bloch - Sukurooji (Ebenezer Scrooge)
Zoe Chien -  The Men
Steven Flores  - Jakubei Mashima (Marley); Kurogo
Mikah Kavita -- The Women
Rachael Richman -- The Christmas Ghosts

Nick Ishimaru -- Director
Mel Ramirez -- Stage Manager
Ella Cooley  -- Sound Designer
Josh McDermott -- Set Designer
Cassie Barnes -- Lighting Designer
Liz Brent -- Costume Designer

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