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BWW Review: A NOH CHRISTMAS CAROL at Theatre Of Yugen is a stunning traditional Japanese theatre re-imagining of Dicken's famous tale.

BWW Review: A NOH CHRISTMAS CAROL at Theatre Of Yugen is a stunning traditional Japanese theatre re-imagining of Dicken's famous tale. A Noh Christmas Carol

Based on Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol

Directed by Nick Ishimaru

Theatre of Yugen

In a Bay Area blessed with a multitude of traditional Christmas chestnuts, Theatre of Yugen's captivating and enchanting take on Dicken's A Christmas Carol is a must-see addition to the scene. Artistic Director Nick Ishimaru takes Yuriko Doi and Cienna Stewart's 1993 noh, kyogen, kabuki, and butoh reimagination to stunning heights demonstrating that Dicken's themes of isolation, altruism and good spirit is indeed universal and open to a variety of unique interpretations.

Every moment of this production is a thrill for the senses, from the slow, measured entrance of Ebezo Sukurooji [Ebenezer Scrooge] in his traditional Haorrihakama, to the ethereal physical and auditory landscapes by set designer Joshua McDermot and Sound Designer Ella Cooley, the haunting music of Zhoushu Ziporyn and the extraordinary costume designs by Liz Brent. Cassie Barnes lights the show with otherworldly shadows and subtlety.

BWW Review: A NOH CHRISTMAS CAROL at Theatre Of Yugen is a stunning traditional Japanese theatre re-imagining of Dicken's famous tale.
(left to right) Mika Oskarson-Kindstrand as Suzu and Ryan Marchand as Sukurooji Ebezo in A Noh Christmas Carol at Theatre of Yugen. Photo by Geoff Nin.

Nick Ishimaru has the traditional noh role as 'koken', meaning "the one who watches from the back". Much more than a stagehand, Ishimaru is an essential element of the proceedings, playing multiple instruments, moving set pieces and providing ethereal sonic effects. A Noh Christmas Carol uses Ishimaru as a kurogo, a later kabuki tradition on the koken with the added duty of drum calls to simulate the characters footsteps.

BWW Review: A NOH CHRISTMAS CAROL at Theatre Of Yugen is a stunning traditional Japanese theatre re-imagining of Dicken's famous tale.
(left to right) Meryn MacDougall as The Ghost of Christmas Past and Ryan Marchand as Sukurooji Ebezo in A Noh Christmas Carol at Theatre of Yugen. Photo by Geoff Nin.

The storyline follows Sukurooji as he receives a visit from his deceased business partner Jakube Mashima [Jacob Marley] with a warning to change his miserly ways or be doomed to linger forever as a ghost. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet-To-Come take Sukurooji on a mesmerizing voyage through his life and times to influence his values. Dickens' morality tale is ingrained in our minds, but Yugen's presentation with its almost ballet-like movements, attention to facial movements and hand gestures elevates the emotional content within the standard stage presentation.

BWW Review: A NOH CHRISTMAS CAROL at Theatre Of Yugen is a stunning traditional Japanese theatre re-imagining of Dicken's famous tale.
(left to right) Meryn MacDougall as The Ghost of Christmas Future and Ryan Marchand as Sukurooji Ebezo in A Noh Christmas Carol at Theatre of Yugen. Photo by Geoff Nin.

The 6-member ensemble cast is outstanding, all playing multiple roles except for Ryan Marchand as Sukurooji. Marchand is commanding as the cheap, imperious boss. A day off for his clerk is "a poor excuse for picking a man's pocket" and he's quick to evict a poor woman from her land and home. Kate Patrick is absolutely frightening as Jakubei's ghost, clad is white tattered linen and the obligatory chains. It's her tortured, contorted agonizing movements with an echoed pre-recorded voice-over premonition that makes her a Jacob Marley you will never forget.

BWW Review: A NOH CHRISTMAS CAROL at Theatre Of Yugen is a stunning traditional Japanese theatre re-imagining of Dicken's famous tale.
Kate Patrick is Jakube Mashima [Jacob Marley] in A Noh Christmas Carol at Theatre of Yugen. Photo by Geoff Nin.

The scenes of Sukurooji's past are delicate and bittersweet. We witness his turn from man to businessman, pulled away from love by his obsession with wealth. His lover (Mika Oskarson-Kindstrand) leaves him when she feels he's broken his contract with her as he "weighs everything by gain". Christmas present has the Tiny Tim story, this time is little, coughing Tomo, a puppet who will eventually open Sukurooji's heart. Mika and Roy Eikleberry play his poor but grateful parents among their numerous roles. The three Ghosts are fascinating creations (Meryn MacDougall and Kate Patrick); one looks like a serene old elf, another an over-zealous sprite, the third a shrouded mute. I'm assuming all three are based on Meiji Japanese folk characters.

Director Ishimaru understands the connections between Dicken's themes and those incorporated in noh theatre in the alleviation of suffering through spiritual enlightenment. Connection to community and being our best selves is the simple aspiration presented beautifully here.

A Noh Christmas Carol continues through December 29, 2019 at Theatre of Yugen, 2840 Mariposa Street, San Francisco. Tickets available at www.theatreofyugen.org or by calling 415-621-0507.



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