In a traditional Noh play, Acts 1 and 2 portray a single central character, and often only a single episode, of a rich, large literary work with which the audience is presumed to be familiar. In Act 1 especially, the shite and the chorus together represent the selected part of the story in lyrical and often even cryptic terms–partly because the shite in the first Act has not yet disclosed his or her identity and only hints at a personal connection with the story of the haunted locale. Between Acts 1 and 2, during the interlude, another actor, called the ai kyogen, comes on stage and tells the story to the waki, and hence also to the audience, in straightforward prose. Thus, even though the language of Act 2 is also lyrical and somewhat allusive, the audience is grounded by having just heard the story in colloquial terms.
Cordelia, like a traditional Noh play, focuses on one character from a rich, large literary work. And as in a traditional Noh play, Cordelia includes an interlude in which an actor, performing in a different style, fills in the story. The character who has this role in Cordelia is the Fool, played by veteran ensemble member Lluis Valls. Lluis described his task to me in a very useful way: if most of Cordelia can be compared to a single magnified detail of a painting, then the Fool’s role is to sketch, quickly and gracefully, the rest of the painting—in this case King Lear—so that even audience members who might not have read King Lear lately can situate Cordelia’s experience in that context. In addition, the Fool must be identifiably Lear’s Fool, who expresses himself in anything but everyday language!
When I interviewed Lluis, there were still decisions to be made about the styling of his performance, but he and Jubilith were leaning toward staging the narrative section of the interlude as a standup comedy or vaudeville act, while the Fool’s recognizable jokes would be performed in the style of kyogen, the Japanese physical comedy genre. For Lluis the role will be unusual, despite his many years of kyogen practice, because in this case there will be no waki or other actor on the stage with whom to interact, and even the musicians will turn away from him (reflecting a tradition in which Noh musicians turn away when a kyogen actor enters). So Lluis had yet to decide how to manage his isolation on the stage. In Noh, the ai kyogen addresses his speech to the waki, rather than to the audience, but Cordelia has no waki. In a traditional kyogen play, the character introduces himself to the audience, often as “a man from this area,” when he first comes onto the stage, but thereafter he interacts mostly or entirely with other characters. In standup comedy, the comic engages directly and continually with the audience. Lluis said the key to his solo performance will be first “to stay connected with the material,” and then to be acutely conscious of the texture and pacing of the play before and after him, so as to strike an appropriate balance and contribute to the artistic effect.
The dramatic experience Lluis brings to this production is diverse. Although he has been associated with Theatre of Yugen for eighteen years—he began to work with founder Yuriko Doi in 1993—he continues to practice European-style clowning and has also performed in many Shakespeare plays and fusion productions based on Shakespeare, including Shogun Macbeth, a transposition of Shakespeare’s Scottish play to feudal Japan. He has broad experience as an actor, director, and creator of works of theatrical fusion, both with Theatre of Yugen and elsewhere. For example, it was Lluis who undertook the adaption of Ben Jonson’s Volpone into kyogen style that was presented as a workshop production in 2010 and will be produced in full during the 2011-12 Theatre of Yugen season.
Lluis told me that he enjoys Shakespeare’s stories and language and the way Shakespeare “digs into human problems.” He is comfortable with Elizabethan English to the extent of finding the lines of a Shakespearian role easier to memorize than are most modern parts! But he hastened to add that with Cordelia, “We are not really trying to do Shakespeare,” any more than a classic Noh playwright would have thought of himself as retelling The Tale of Genji. Despite the reuse of language, he says playwright Erik Ehn and the Yugen ensemble will have crafted a work that is substantially new.