Looking Forward to Lingering

Detail from Scroll of the Hungry Ghosts, 13th Century (Wikipedia Commons)

Detail from Scroll of the Hungry Ghosts, 13th Century (Wikipedia Commons)

It is with great enthusiasm that I anticipate the world-premiere production of Chiori Miyagawa’s This Lingering Life, playing at the Z Space on June 5-14, 2014.  And it is also with pleasure that I begin this series of blog posts, to share information about what I think will be one of the most memorable shows in recent Theatre of Yugen history.

Why this show, now?  At a moment when it seems that the addiction most pervasive in our society is rancor, This Lingering Life is at once a reminder not to fall in love with our own anger and an exhortation to help others overcome the resentments that haunt them.  Whether your tastes run to pathos, humor, experimental music, mystical experience, or the supernatural, you will want to join us.

Not your guru's Bardo (clip art)

Not your guru’s Bardo (clip art)

Yugen Takes a Western Turn

Regular audience members are accustomed to seeing, at the NOHspace, contemporary plays in which a story culled from European or American literature or history is enacted in a style derived from classical Japanese Noh, Kyogen, or a combination of these traditional dramatic forms.  This Lingering Life will offer an experience of the opposite kind:  in this new play by New York-based playwright Chiori Miyagawa, nine stories drawn from the classical Japanese Noh theater are intertwined, set in the twenty-first century, and presented in a distinctly Western style.

Several of the posts in this series will introduce the Noh plays on which this new play is based, so that if you choose, you can enjoy recognizing them in their modern guises.  We also hope that for some audience members, the stories will inspire an interest in learning more about Noh.

That the company is taking a new turn with This Lingering Life is underscored by the consistency with which both playwright Chiori Miyagawa and dramaturg Eugenie Chan have asserted their distance from the Noh form and from Japanese culture more generally.  In a recent interview, Miyagawa repeatedly resisted the interviewer’s emphasis on her Japanese origins, for example:

Q: What do you miss about working in your homeland?

A: I have never done theater in my homeland, if you mean homeland as being the country where I was born…In my chosen homeland, I’ve been fortunate to be able to keep doing theater for many years.
(from http://www.tcgcircle.org/2012/03/artist-immigrant-chiori-miyagawa/)

And when Chan first joined us at artistic retreats and rehearsals for the production, she took care to remind those of us who are enthralled by Noh that her first responsibility as dramaturg was to consider the production from the standpoint of someone who is neither versed in Noh nor deeply motivated to learn about it.

Nine Actors in Twenty-Eight Roles

Cast of thousand? (from Sea of Buddha, Hiroshi Sugimoto 1995)

Cast of thousand? (from Sea of Buddha, Hiroshi Sugimoto 1995)

This Lingering Life features a large cast, consisting of nearly the whole Yugen ensemble, some familiar faces from the past, and several participants in the Yugen apprenticeship program.  A major role in the play is that of the Woman with Tragic Hair, who wanders the earth, trying to help others to achieve enlightenment so that ultimately she, too, can find her way to Nirvana.  This role will be undertaken by Artistic Director Jubilith Moore, who has not assumed a major role in a mainstage production, except on tour, since Erik Ehn’s Cordelia three years ago.  (Moore is also the Director of This Lingering Life.)  Senior ensemble members Lluis Valls and Sheila Berotti will each assume multiple roles.  Junior ensemble member Sheila Devitt will have her first role in a mainstage contemporary production by Theatre of Yugen, having previously appeared in traditional Kyogen as part of the company’s annual spring Sorya! program.

Rehearsal at NOHspace

Rehearsal at NOHspace

Back with us for this special event will be two actors who charmed audiences in previous productions but who have since been more active elsewhere in the San Francisco theater world.  Former ensemble member Ryan Marchand had his debut at the NOHspace in the Theatre of Yugen production of Candide or Optimism; he is currently Artistic Director of Handful Players, where he introduces San Francisco schoolchildren to the pleasures and challenges of theater making.  Associate ensemble member Norman Muñoz appeared in several past Theatre of Yugen productions, including Don Q, Candide or Optimism, Volpone or the Fox, and Dogsbody;  since appearing on our stage, he has been active with other local theaters, notably and recently in the Fall 2013 world premiere of Basil Kreimendahl’s Sidewinders at San Francisco’s Cutting Ball Theater.

And representing the Yugen apprenticeship program are:

  • Nick Ishimaru, whom many readers will remember as the dorking hen and Yongy Bonghy Bo in the 2012 production of A Minor Cycle
  • Alexander Lydon, a relatively recent transplant to the Bay Area theater scene, whose Bay Area  credits so far include the role of Monkey King in Crowded Fire Theatre’s World Premiere of 410[GONE] by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig and the role of Magistrate Tiger in Bay Area Children’s Theatre’s World Premiere production of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, with book, music, and lyrics by Min Kahng
  • Hannah Lennett, who will be making her mainstage debut but is active elsewhere as a Teaching Artist, bringing theater to Bay Area private and public school children through her involvement with the Storybuilders program of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Late-breaking news:  Alex tells me that he has just been promoted to the status of junior ensemble member.  Congratulations, Alex, and congratulations, Theatre of Yugen, for engaging a young man of Alex’s breadth and promise!

Hungry Ghosts, You Say?

In later posts, I will introduce the composer, the designers, and other important contributors to the production, but next, how about some background information concerning the Bardo, hungry ghosts, and the Buddhist afterlife?

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