Lincoln Center Festival 2014 Presents Heisei Nakamura-za

Article by Pui See Tsang
Photo credit Xue Liang

This summer, the Heisei Nakamura-za company traveled to Lincoln Center to showcase Kaidan Chibusa no Enok, a revival of a 19th-century ghost story. The title literally translates to “The Ghost Tale of the Wet Nurse Tree” and is about a child who suckled on the sap of a magical tree rather than his mother’s breast milk. The play is based on a rakugo solo narrative created by Sanyutei Encho, who first published the script in a Tokyo newspaper in 1889. In 1915, the Kabuki actor Jitsukawa Enjaku II added the villain Uwabami no Sanji along with the other lead characters, Shigenobu and Shosuke.

In 1990, the late Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII revived the play at the Kabukiza Theatre to wide acclaim. After Kanzaburo’s passed away, his son Nakamura Kankuro took on the play’s three demanding roles at the Shimbashi Enbujo Theatre in 2011 and more recently at the Akasaka ACT Theatre in 2013. Kankuro seamlessly transforms into three entirely different characters: Shigenobu, the celebrated painter; Shosuke, his kind but weak-hearted servant; and Sanji, the ruthless thief. In one climactic scene, Kankuro, becomes soaked while fighting his opponent at a waterfall. He is at one moment the villain Uwabami no Sanji and at another, the defenseless Shosuke. Such clever and quick changes, long a highlight of the Kabuki tradition, are scattered throughout the spectacle.

Several of the settings in the play are based on real landmarks. The Juniso shrine, for example, still exists today in Tokyo. Another example is the waterfall, which was a popular destination during Japan’s Edo period. Traditionally, kaidan performances take place during the hottest months of the year, hoping to “chill” audiences with a frightening ghost story. The Heisei Nakamura-za company managed to do just that. By providing impressive visuals and performances, it is sure to refresh audiences during the hot summer weather.

Traditionally performances of kaidan plays take place during the hottest months of the year when audiences are chilled by a frightening ghost story, a must-see performance during Lincoln Center Festival 2014 from July 7-12 at Rose Theater.

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