Behind the scenes of ‘Love Suicides of Sonezaki’
If you happen to go to “The Love Suicides” at the Nevada Theatre, be prepared to see some unusual sets and acting, because the production follows an ancient Japanese tradition called Kabuki.
As the context of the play explores social limits, so, too, does the set design.
“Part of our concept of the play is that the restricted, cluttered stage environment reflects these social limits,” said Director Amber Jo Manuel.
“As the actors release themselves from social restrictions more stuff goes off the stage, which gradually opens up.
“The play is surreal. We’re not as concerned with realization as we are stylization. In this style it’s OK to have someone coming on stage and taking your prop.”
A lot of the actors are doing traditional white Kabuki make-up. It will take them at least an hour and a half to get physically ready for each performance.
At the same time, they must prepare mentally to remember all the detailed voice and movement structures they’ve learned. Kabuki actors must use vocal stylization and expansive choreographed movements.
“Today they’re really understanding the form,” Manuel said at a rehearsal last week. “There are so many things they’re not supposed to do. The costumes will help bring it together.”
In a real tour de force, costume designer Catherine Ione is incorporating three different elements into the costumes: Kabuki, Butoh and Bunraku.
“Butoh is a meditative dance form. It’s very slow moving and is almost or completely nude. In the last scene, we represent that with gauzy fabric which still has a Japanese look,” she said.
Each of the narrators is linked to one of the lovers. “We use sashes to represent that,” Ione said. “I used baskets as the basis of the big hats the men wear. They were intended to conceal men’s faces when they frequented the ‘pleasure district.'”
The wooden platform extending out into the audience is a hanamichi (literally, flower path), a typical Kabuki element. Actors use it for entrances and exits, cutting across the middle of the house to access the other side of the stage.
“Amber and I developed the set ideas together,” said set designer David Minkoff. Their minimalist concept engages the audience’s imagination.
To suggest a forest, they use a real tree and a large bough, rather than painting a full backdrop of fake forest. “We’re going for a natural but not entirely literal look,” Minkoff said. “Brainstorming is the funniest part of the project for me.”
by JOAN A. MAYERLE
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