Most, but possibly not all, visitors to this site already know that the Theatre of Yugen is a small, San Francisco-based ensemble theater that has, for the past thirty years, created adaptations of western literary works in the style of Japanese Noh or Kyogen theater. This spring we are presenting a piece that, if you have never come to see us before, might be the perfect opportunity for you to sample our work.
Cordelia is, as the title suggests, a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear from the point of view of Cordelia, the daughter who is disowned and exiled by her father after she refuses to exaggerate her love to win her share of his kingdom. The irate Lear divides the kingdom between his two other daughters, then goes to stay with one after the other, but neither is willing to accommodate his rowdy retinue, his regal entitlement, or his rages. Before long he goes mad, and much of the play depicts him wild and forlorn on a stormy heath with his wry but faithful Fool. Eventually Cordelia, who has fled to France and married the French king, returns with an army to rescue her father. In this effort, she fails and is captured. Although the text for this adaptation is a collage of Shakespeare’s language by experimental playwright Erik Ehn, even audience members uneasy with the English of prior centuries need no more background on the story than I have just provided.
The form in which Cordelia’s story will be told is that of a Japanese Noh play, and specifically a “phantasmal Noh warrior play.” In a play of this type, the audience experiences a visitation by the ghost of a warrior who, after death, remains in a purgatorial state because he–or in this case, she–remains engrossed in an indelible life memory. Here Cordelia, the unsuccessful warrior, relives her actions and evaluates her choices from a strikingly original perspective.
Costumes in Noh are typically magnificent (as a Google image search will reveal), and even without the largesse of a Japanese feudal lord, the costuming for this production will be memorable. Costumer Risa Dye has a whimsical flair and a sense of color and pattern-matching resonant with traditional Japanese costume, and for the first time in the history of the Theatre of Yugen, we have worked with a distinguished Japanese Noh mask carver to create a new mask that incorporates both Eastern and Western stylistic elements. Mask work is one of the most crucial and potent aspects of a Noh production, and those who experience Cordelia will have the chance to see this unique mask animated by the current leading lady of our theater, actress and Artistic Director Jubilith Moore.
Noh is, to a large extent, dance drama, and an important aspect of any production is its music, which is predominantly percussion. In this and other productions, we tend to depart from traditional Japanese instrumentation while retaining the eerie quality that makes Noh music an apt accompaniment to supernatural visitation. For this production, the Theatre of Yugen has invited Bay Area musician and composer Suki O’Kane, who has worked with us on numerous projects before, to create a haunting musical score.
When and Where
The show runs from April 20 through May 7 at the NOHSpace, in Project Artaud in San Francisco. Tickets have just gone on sale at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/159598.
Please consider joining us. I think I can promise that, even if you have seen King Lear on stage or screen a dozen times, you will see Cordelia in a new light.