Friday, August 04, 2006

Reviews in for "Kitsune no Chochin"

First, here's today's LA Times:

Puppets star in tale of feudal Japan

By Lynne Heffley, Times Staff Writer

A farmer's quest to rescue his samurai son's demon-snared soul, a contemporary subtext about the true cost of war: There's nothing childish about Triumvirate Pi Theatre Company's modest but effective family puppet play, "Kitsune No Cho-Chin" (The Fox Lantern). Inside the social hall of the Centenary United Methodist Church in Little Tokyo, on a countertop stage flanked by wood-and-paper screens, the cast of small, frozen-faced, loose-limbed actors is coaxed into silent eloquence by hooded puppeteers in black.

Created by writer-director Leslie K. Gray and puppet designer Sam Hoji Hale, with puppeteers Michael Oosterom, Eli Presser and Janet Song, this tale of ghosts and demons, duty and loss, war and redemption in feudal Japan unfolds through shadow puppetry, projections and Bunraku-style execution.Wisely, Gray forgoes dialogue, allowing the puppeteers' subtle manipulations, Kathi O'Donohue's deft lighting and composer George Abe's live performance of his ambient score — bamboo flutes, bells, brass cymbals and taiko drums — to speak for themselves in this pocket-sized production.

"Kitsune No Cho-Chin" (The Fox Lantern), Centenary United Methodist Church, 300 S. Central Ave., L.A. 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 4 p.m. Sundays, except no 2 p.m. show this Saturday and no shows Aug. 13. Ends Aug. 20. $10, adults; $5, ages 10 and younger and full-time students. (213) 617-9097 or Running time: 45 minutes.

And here's

The Fox Lantern


Centenary United Methodist Church

A little over a year ago we reviewed The Triumvirate Pi Theatre Company’s and Leslie K. Gray’s The Pink Dress and commented about the impact simple puppets can have when they are the protagonists in a compelling story.

The Fox Lantern is Leslie K. Gray’s most recent work, incorporating Japanese motifs from the Kabuki Theatre, Banraku Puppet Theatre and Japanese folklore. This is a story about the abuse of government power, the loyalty of a son and the love of a father.

Set in the Sengoku Jidai era (around mid 15th century to 17th century), an arrogant government official visits a poor rice farmer one day and orders the farmer’s son to go off to battle. Having respect for authority, they comply, but before leaving, the father passes on his metal helmet to and sword to his son for protection. Alas, the battle was too fierce and the son is killed, leaving the father stricken with grief.

A former Samurai, the father cuts off his topknot (signifying he relinquishes his life of war to prayer and meditation), but his sadness is eventually guided by a magical fox woman who leads him in a determined quest to save the soul of his son. Following his spiritual guide, the father travels far, encountering spirits who try to stop him, but his determination triumphs and in the end, the son and the father are seen together – joined in spirit.

Telling such a story with puppets only is quite a challenge, but when it’s told entirely without words, accompanied by an original score of Taiko drumming and shakuhachi music (bamboo flute) by composer – performer George Abe, then it becomes transcendental.

The beautifully carved and delicately adorned puppets created by artist Sam Koji Hale almost breathe as they are brought to life by puppeteers Michael Oosterom, Eli Presser and Janet Song, all of whom are draped in black to signify they should not be noticed as they actually handle the puppets and maneuver their hands, their feet and their heads giving them realistic movements.

There is a sub-text, as is the case with most plays, and this one is not too hard to discern – it’s government sending young men to battle to advance its own agenda. Is there a parallel here?

Part of the Annual Nisei Week Festival which spans from August 12 to the 20th, the play runs at the Centenary United Methodist Church at 300 South Central Avenue in Little Tokyo. Call (213) 617-9097 for Ticket Information.

Nisei week also commemorates Hiroshima Remembrance Day, August 6, 1945, when the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb killing over 140,000 people. Whatever political reasons people have, war seems to change the sensibilities and values of those involved.

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