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Friday, Feb. 3, 2006

Kabuki duo turn Bard into a mythical folktale

Ryutopia Company shot to prominence in December 2003 with its Noh staging of "Macbeth." Since then, Ryutopia's 48-year-old director Yoshihiro Kurita has twice more pulled off the feat of breaking the Tokyo-Osaka stranglehold on Japanese theater by luring the nation's critics north through the snows for premieres of his acclaimed noh productions of Shakespeare -- first with "King Lear" in December 2004, and then with "The Winter's Tale" late last year.

Last time he staged "Macbeth" to acclaim in Niigata, it was with a local, little-known cast. On this occasion, adding another twist to his development of traditional art forms, Kurita has enlisted two prominent and confident kabuki actors for the central roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, in Ukon Ichikawa and Emiya Ichikawa, respectively.

Kurita has repeatedly said how he feels that the bare noh stage is perfect for focusing the imagination of the audience on Shakespeare's subtle plots, though he acknowledges that it puts even more responsibility on the cast. Here, Kurita looks set to stretch his cast's imagination to the full as he transforms Shakespeare's dark tragedy into a traditional, mystical Japanese folktale. Crucially, the Bard's three old witch crones become six identical-looking young Japanese females. With their bob hairstyles and bright-red kimono, these inspired Kurita creations brilliantly conjure a subliminal fantasy world in a mythical bamboo forest alive with the strains of traditional Japanese folk music.

But as with all noh, it is a world within a dream, or perhaps a dream within a world, and truly here the audiences will get to share the reveries and specters in the all-powerful but paranoid and deluded mind of the samurai lord, Macbeth.

"Macbeth" runs till Feb. 3 at the Niigata Ryutopia Theater. It then tours to Tokyo Feb 4-12 and 20-22 at the Umewaka Noh Gakuin Kaikan, Higashi-Nakano. In between, the play runs at Nagoya Noh Theater, Feb. 14-15, and Osaka's Otsuki Noh Theater, Feb. 16-18. Tickets cost 8,500 yen, 7,500 yen and 6,500 yen, available from Ticket Pia or Ryutopia at (025) 224-5521.

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