“Laughing at Life,” a performance of four short Japanese kyôgen comedies in translation, opens on Thursday, Nov. 8, at 8 p.m. and runs through Sunday, Nov. 18 in the Bruce Davis Theater on the St. Mary’s College of Maryland campus. Ticket prices are $4 or $6, general admission. To make reservations, call the Theater Box Office at 240-895-4243 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Produced by the department of theater, film, and media studies and directed by faculty member and Asian performance specialist Holly A. Blumner, “Laughing at Life” performs Nov. 8-10 and 15-17 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 11 and 18 at 2 p.m. An informal talk-back with cast and crew moderated by Charles Musgrove, St. Mary’s College professor of history and Asian studies, will take place after the Saturday, Nov. 10 performance.
Meaning “mad words” or “wild speech,” kyôgen is a form of traditional Japanese comic theater historically performed as a break between each of the five plays of the more sober noh dramas. Today, kyôgen stands as a form of theater in its own right, and is known for its lavish costumes, simple, elegant set, and acting style. Its goal then and now – to make you laugh! Kyôgen actors do not wear masks when playing ordinary human roles, but when the play calls for them to be an animal or demon, they wear a mask or even a full body costume known as a kigurumi.
Featuring the hijinks of servants Tarô Kaja and Jirô Kaja, kyôgen equivalents of movie funnymen Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy, “Laughing at Life” includes two plays that showcase their antics: “Busu” (“Delicious Poison,” translated by director Blumner) and “Bôshibari” (“Tied to a Pole,” translated by Julie A. Iezzi).
A special feature of the evening is performances of two unique kyôgen. “Utsubozaru,” or “The Monkey Bow-Quiver,” is the U.S. premiere of the poignant comedy starring the kozaru character. The play is translated by director Blumner.
“Utsubozaru” is a famous play in the kyôgen repertoire in which the kozaru character appears. The kyôgen world has a saying, “Start as a monkey, end as a fox.” This is the name of a training course that the traditional kyôgen actor undergoes. This means that the kyôgen performer takes his very first steps by playing the role of the monkey in “Utsubozaru” and later the role of the fox in “Tsurigitsune” (“The Fox and the Trapper”). Kozaru is played by a child wearing a mask and a costume and “taking his first steps” as a kyôgen actor. The kozaru character in the St. Mary’s College production is played by nine-year-old Emily Musgrove from California, Md.
Rounding out the evening of kyôgen performance is the parent-child comedy “Iroha,” or “Learning the Alphabet.” In this short play, a parent instructs its smart-alecky child on learning the alphabet in preparation for its starting its first year of school. This play is performed in Japanese with English supertitles by director Blumner.
For complete synopses of the kyôgen plays, visit the TFMS website.
Performances of “Laughing at Life” take place in the Bruce Davis Theater in Montgomery Hall on the St. Mary’s College campus. Free parking is available within walking distance to Montgomery Hall in both the Michael P. O’Brien Athletics and Recreation Center parking lot and in the adjacent visitor’s parking lot. Both parking lots are located on East Fisher Road, off Mattapany Road.