In Review : Shinju
by Paula Jardine
photos by Yukiko Onley
The experience of Yayoi’s Theatre Movement production of Sonezaki Shinju began as soon as I entered the doors into the Performance Works space. Stepping into the blackness and around a corner, we entered an elegantly sparse box: a place outside of place or time, and filled with expectation.
On either side of the playing area were beautiful instruments: a piano on one side, a koto and shamisen on the other. A banner of the story’s title hung in front of a simple red square of loosely intertwined fibers, created by Judy Nakagawa, that served as backdrop.
In the program notes I read, “In Japanese culture we believe we are connected to our soul mate at birth by a red string tied to our little fingers. No matter the distance or hardship, you are destined to choose the path to find and be with your soul mate.” My eyes traced the lines of threads in the red square as I contemplated this.
The program offered other important and interesting background information about kabuki theatre traditions that helped us to understand what unfolded before us. Though even without it, the narration, the clarity of the performances, the perfect gestures, and the seamless integration of the live music and supportive sound effects, told a story of such beauty and humanity that it required no explanation.
I found myself drawn in from the beginning, when Yayoi and the exquisite Manami Hara applied their perfect makeup without a mirror, (impressive in itself!) transforming and becoming their characters. Much of the movement was simple—such as the first time the lovers cross paths, circling the stage in smaller and smaller circles until they pass, pause, lean back slightly, then continue their orbits—yet able to communicate such complex feelings.
Though the performance style was based on kabuki, there were other influences at play—including a brief and delightful leap into classical ballet—and I was struck by the similarities with, say, Commedia d’el Arte, and the universality of some of the archetypes.
We laughed. We cried. We hoped for the lovers’ success.
All of the performers were strong. Thomas Conlin Jones depiction of the aunt was a particular stand out, and Peter Hall seems to have found a true home here in this style. But it was Manami Hara and Yayoi who carried the story, and especially the deep pathos and amazing physicality of Yayoi that brought us all to tears in the end.
Oh how I wish it had been a longer run, and that I could have made everyone I know go to see it.
I hope this production is mounted again: it deserves to be seen by many.It is truly a work of heartbreaking beauty.
Paula Jardine is a community artist with a background in theatre. She is currently the artist in residence at Mountain View Cemetery.