‘The Love Suicides’ challenges actors with Kabuki style | TheUnion.com

‘The Love Suicides’ challenges actors with Kabuki style

Eileen JoyceDaniel Douros as Tokubei (left) and Ernesto Bustos as Kuheigi perform a scene from "The Love Suicides at Sonezaki," opening Friday at the Nevada Theatre.
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Amber Jo Manuel, who directs “The Love Suicides at Sonezaki” for Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra, thrives on different theater approaches.

Last summer, Manuel directed Foothill Theatre Company’s “Into the Night, Faces,” an experimental theater collaboration between visual artists, actors and musicians. The Nevada County resident enjoys presenting new experiences for both actors and audiences.

That’s a major reason she jumped at directing “The Love Suicides,” running Friday to Feb. 8 at Nevada Theatre. This play, Manuel said, offers a huge departure from any other roles actors might have played in CATS’ 10-year history.

“Love Suicides” was written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon 300 years ago for Bunraku or Japanese puppet theater and crossed over to Kabuki (a 400-year old Japanese form that combines dance, music and stylized acting) theater in the 1950s.

“It’s a different form and much harder than any other play the CATS actors have done,” Manuel explained. “This is a play from Japan. The other CATS plays are from Asian-American writers. It’s one thing to play an Asian-American on stage and it’s another thing to play someone from another country with a whole new set of cultural standards or beliefs.”

It was also difficult for Manuel’s actors to follow rigid directions required by Kabuki theater.

“Kabuki is definitely hard,” said Manuel, who has a master’s degree in directing from the University of Hawaii and studied this form there for one year. “It’s so restrictive, you can’t move your head that way, you can’t move your thumb this way.”

Holli Hiraoka who has performed in CATS plays for three years, has a “Love Suicides” lead. The play was one of her most difficult roles, she said, because Kabuki actors traditionally learn this form of theater almost from birth. It was also her most fascinating role in that she acquired admiration for Kabuki actors after reading books from her Japanese father and watching videos of these traditional actors.

“There’s certain ways of walking, of moving, of stylized vocals that’s allowed in Kabuki theater,” Manuel explained. “The movements are almost like choreography; the actors have to walk on this line; much more of the staging is like choreography than free movement; they have to speak in a sing-songy style.”

That’s not to say that Manuel made the CATS version of “The Love Suicides at Sonezaki” entirely 100 percent Kabuki-style. Since August, she experimented with different influences to “create our own piece of theater that makes sense for Western audiences.”

For instance, the set design by David Minkoff, who took two weeks off from his technical director position at the University of Chicago’s studio arts program to work for CATS, took liberties with the Kabuki guidelines which call for one traditional set.

Minkoff instead designed three sets for three acts to mirror the lovers’ feelings as the play progresses – from feelings of restriction, captivity and crowdedness to feelings of liberation, freedom and open space.

“The Love Suicides at Sonezaki” follows a true-life double suicide in 1703 about two lovers who, under the Japanese class system, are not allowed to marry.

In the play, Tokubei, an assistant to a soy-sauce merchant, is in love with Ohatsu, a prostitute. When Tokubei doesn’t agree to a prearranged marriage because of his affections for Ohatsu, his outraged family tells him to return the dowry money.

But he loaned the dowry to a friend who denies receiving the money. In debt to his master, Tokubei is now branded a thief, a humiliation to his middle-class standing and a failure. The only honorable way for Tokubei to be with Ohatsu, according to his belief in Pure Land Buddhism, is to commit suicide with her. In that way, they will be reborn together on the same lotus flower.

Manuel is intrigued by this philosophy.

“I read a lot about Pure Land Buddhism before working on the play, I wanted to understand the mentality,” she said. “The lovers believed it was a pure act of love and would free them from their suffering.”

The death scene is one of Manuel’s favorite scenes.

“Tragically, two lovers are trapped because they can’t follow their hearts due to family and social obligations,” the director said. “The death is a beautiful scene, it’s not a Western bloody, gross and horrific death but a beautiful take on an action that frees the lovers from societal obligations.”


WHAT: Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra presents “The Love Suicides At Sonezaki”

WHEN: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. between Friday and Feb. 8, with additional 2 p.m. matinee performances on Jan. 25 and Feb. 1.

WHERE: Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad St., Nevada City

ADMISSION: $13 in advance and $15 at the door. Tickets at Odyssey Books, Golden Flower Trading Co. & Museum and Nevada City Postal Co., on-line at http://www.PresaleTicketing.com and by phone at (805) 692-5548.



PREVIEW: Tonight at 8. Tickets are $5 at the door. Box office opens at 6 p.m.

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