A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Feb 23, 2010
Bringing it Home
Back in 1974 at the University of Hawaii, David Furumoto got his first taste of kabuki theater, playing a role in Narukami: The Thunder God. Today, Furumoto is director of University Theatre, as well as the UW’s resident kabuki aficionado.
Starting this Thursday, Furumoto not only has the opportunity to share his appreciation for this traditional and stylized form of Japanese theater, he also gets to present Narukami to Madison audiences.
The story centers on the powerful Buddhist priest Narukami who strikes a deal with the Emperor. In exchange for a male heir, the Emperor vows to grant Narukami anything he wants. But when the Emperor denies his wish, Narukami traps all the gods of rain as punishment, causing a severe draught. As the Emperor seeks an end to the suffering, he and his coconspirators must be careful: If the priest is angered he can transform into a demon.
Along with Narukami, University Theatre presents The Zen Substitute, a comedic one-act about a man who’s grown tired of his smothering wife and takes refuge in a mistress. The situation works well—until his wife finds out about the affair.
Furumoto looks forward to pairing these works. Narukami offers traditional and easily accessible kabuki while The Zen Substitute represents and older form of kabuki reworked to incorporate a more modern spin.
As Furumoto prepared for the productions with his students and staff, he took time to answer a few questions about the works.
Why did you choose this work for this season?
The reasons for choosing Narukami as part of this season have been practical and artistic reasons.
On the artistic front, it is a very entertaining play that displays what I would call a pure kabuki style. It is also a play that comes from the store of eighteen best plays of the Ichikawa Danjuro family of kabuki actors who are credited with creating the Aragoto style of acting [a style in which costumes, dialogue and other elements of a performance are exaggerated], which is featured in this play in the character of Narukami Aragoto. Literally “rough stuff,” it is the bravura style of acting, which depicts kabuki heroes and villains.
On the practical front, costumes for this play were borrowed from existing stores of costumes at universities in this country, thus expense-wise much more manageable than trying to buy or rent costumes from Japan (the costumes are being borrowed from Pomona College in California and the University of Hawaii). This was the first kabuki play that I acted in at the University of Hawaii and thus it has strong connections to my involvement in kabuki theater.
What makes Narukami a good production for University Theatre? What opportunities does it provide for you and your students?
This show will provide students involved with the production an understanding of one of the great traditional theater forms that exist in the world. Certainly it will expand anyone who experiences the show into Japanese traditional theater. For this production, we have student designers who are responsible for the sets, lighting, costumes, props, the technical building of the show, as well as the actors involved. It is our hope that we will be giving our audiences as close to an authentic kabuki experience as possible. This hooks into one of the major difficulties that we face and that is the use of music in the show. We do not have access at this time to a live kabuki “orchestra” so we will be relying heavily on recorded sound. And the intricacy of inserting background music into scenes as well as narrative music is a vital part of the performance so much easier with live musicians, but we work with what we have.
What are you doing with the set for this production?
We got set advice from folks in Japan but in making it fit the Mitchell, we have had to also be creative and that is what the design students here in the department have done so admirably.
What do you hope audiences get from seeing this production?
First of all, that they have an enjoyable evening at the theater and that they come away with an appreciation and a liking for kabuki theater. It would also be a wonderful thing to intrigue our audience enough that they would, if they got to go to Japan, want to go see the kabuki in its home country, as well as keep on wanting to see “English” kabuki productions here in America as well.
Narukami: The Thunder God and The Zen Substitute run February 25–March 13 at Mitchell Theatre in Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave., on the UW–Madison campus. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30p and Sunday, March 7 at 2p. For tickets, call 265.2787 or visit utmadison.com.
Photo courtesy of University Theatre.