Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Alvin Chuen Git Chan, left, is the conniving Kosuke trying to trick the hapless Hisamatsu (Christopher Masato Doi) by faking stomach cramps in the kabuki play "Nozaki Village."

Kennedy’s Kabuki play
is a high quality show

Recent Kennedy Theatre kabuki productions have provided painstakingly detailed entry-level access to traditional Japanese theater. "Nozaki Village" maintains those high standards. Once again, there are intricately choreographed performances and gorgeous costumes, and once again, standout performances transcend cultural barriers.

"Nozaki Village": Presented by Kennedy Theatre, continues at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $18; with discounts for seniors, military, UH staff and students. Call 956-7655.

Community theater veterans Alvin Chuen Git Chan is the lead comic villain, Kosuke, and Norman Munoz is a corrupt, voyeuristic priest. Chan got most of the response from the audience on Saturday with his well-rounded portrayal of a despicable and cowardly schemer so pleased with himself that he breaks into a comic dance. Munoz's drunken priest was another crowd-pleaser; a scene in which the priest had to decide whether to surreptitiously watch a couple have sex or scam a wealthy victim was a comic highlight.

Julie A. Iezzi does double-duty as translator and director of the many storylines that are woven into the tale of love, duty and unpunished wrongdoing.

Kosuke (Chan) and with Priest Hoin (Munoz) are at the center of conspiracies involving the framing of a man for theft in one case, and a tangle of marriage promises in another. Kosuke's evil deeds apparently go undetected and the priest's unethical behavior unpunished.

Lei Sadakari is the wealthy, beautiful Osome. Although she moves in the strictly choreographed, doll-like motions of the genre, Sedakari effectively conveys Osome's lust for the low-ranking Hisamatsu (Christopher Masato Doi), the victim of one of Kosuke's plots.

Xing Fan as Omitsu -- a woman caught up in a tangle of arranged marriages that run counter to the personal desires of Osome and Hiramatsu -- likewise transcends the barriers imposed by make-up and choreographed movement to express a broad swath of conflicting emotions. The interplay between Sadakari and Fan also proved highly entertaining to the audience on Saturday.

The spontaneous audience response to Chan, Munoz, Fan and Sadakari was distinct from the "scripted" responses interjected in an attempt to add cultural ambiance. This isn't mentioned in the playbill, but audiences in Japan sometimes yell out the names of favorite actors when they first appear. Someone in the back of the theater appears to have been assigned that duty -- a nod to convention that would work better if it didn't seem so forced.

Gilbert Molina adds a fine blend of comedy and poignancy as Hisamatsu's father, a wise older man who reminds Hiramatsu and Osome that their relationship is a betrayal of their responsibilities to their families. Molina and Fan also add effective physical comedy to the show.

The sets and costumes are as magnificent as in years past, but the decision to cast women -- Colleen Lanki, Nicole Tessier and Jessica Lee Jacob -- in three major male roles is problematic. The gender of the three remains evident, inserting a transvestite "girls will be boys" aspect that is the only questionable aspect in an otherwise marvelous production.

Males have played the female roles in kabuki for more than 350 years, but true gender never mars the illusion created by their performances.

Act II is memorable for reasons that can't be mentioned without spoiling the surprise or giving away the story, but which make "Nozaki Village" the most elaborate and expansive Kennedy Theatre kabuki production in recent years.

An expanded playbill that included background information on the cultural milieu, including such things as the custom of yelling out the names of favorite actors, would make it more accessible for those encountering kabuki for the first time.

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