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Secret by Cassidy Dawn Graves
At La MaMa, 66 E 4th Street, East Village. 8pm
I can’t say I know a ton about Watoku Ueno’s one-night-only piece at La MaMa, but maybe they’re staying true to their name and keeping all the juicy details a secret… What I do know is that it’s based off Japanese folklore, specifically a story known as “Crane Wife,” where a man marries a woman who is really a crane in disguise and makes money by weaving her own feathers into silk brocade and leaves once her husband finds out she’s really a crane. That is true independence and craftiness, if I do say so myself. Secret includes not only dance and live music but also some glorious shadow puppetry that will bring this odd little tale to life.

New York Theater bRon Cohen 

After The Rain -75 minutes of dreamlike theatre.The piece is inspired by the short stories of Ryunosuke Akutagawa, a noted Japanese writer who committed suicide in 1927 at age 35. Developed by the company during rehearsals under the aegis of director and designer Watoku Ueno, the show comprises three tales with strong moral overtones. The first sequence takes place centuries ago at Kyoto's Rashomon gate, when famine forces a samurai to betray his principles and rob an old woman who herself is stealing the hair of the dead. (Akutagawa's story is the basis for the famed Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon.) In the second sequence, an apprentice magician is denied knowledge of a higher art of magic because he cannot meet the requirement to restrain his greed. And in the third, the bitter mood of an old man traveling on a train is lifted by an act of generosity from a fellow passenger, a poor country girl.

The production has striking visual appeal and manages to work up a reasonable amount of emotional resonance. The storytelling incorporates lots of stylized movement, shadow puppetry, and pleasantly fragile songs, along with text from Akutagawa and convincing performances by the four actors in multiple roles.Rex Marin admirably endows each of the three central characters -- the samurai, the apprentice, and the old traveler -- with distinct personalities, while Hana A. Kalinski, Stephanie Silver, and Kazue Tani provide strong ensemble work. The musical underscoring and accompaniment by composer-guitarist Kato Hideki add dramatic emphasis, as do Ueno's honeycomb-like stage platform design and his moody lighting. After the Rain it's a show whose artistic aspirations are palpable and valid.

Presented at La MaMa E.T.C., 74A E. Fourth St., NYC. or review by Kat Chamberlain

Watching After the Rain, a new multimedia show based on three short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, one of the best-known Japanese writers of the last century, is a surreal experience. Creator Watoku Ueno and the Yara Arts Group have put tremendous thought into the aesthetics of the piece. It opens beautifully, with one of the most original and intriguing set designs I have ever seen. It serves up one surprise after another, from exotic costumes to intricate movements. A combination of music, shadow puppets, projections, and dance, it feels like a theatre version of an art house silent film. And I loved that show.  From the moment the audience walks into the theatre, the focus is on the stage: the floor is an open grid, with beams wide enough for actors to walk on, and openings big enough for them to fall or jump in. A musician in traditional Japanese attire appears on the balcony, and with a simple guitar fills the theatre with mystery and allure. When the lights come up, three women start moving on the grid with delicate, gliding footwork. Two of them hold white paper umbrellas. "Rain. Hard rain breaks my heart," they sing.

It's the story of "Rashomon." We see on the rice-paper screen backdrop a shadow puppet of a man climbing up a ladder. A real man emerges from under the grid onto the stage. He is a samurai fallen on hard times, taking shelter from the rain in the ruins of the Rashomon Gate. He witnesses an old woman pulling hair out of a corpse to sell as wigs. He is first outraged, then decides to follow her example and robs her of her clothes.

The show moves to the second story, "Magic," in which a man learns a great craft of magic, with the condition that it never be used for greed. He violates the agreement and suffers violent death. The shadow puppetry again outshines the real actors, as objects appear, move, transform, and disappear with a great deal of ingenuity and fanfare. 

The third story, "Mandarin," is about an old man's impressions of a simple act by a country girl, who throws mandarins out of the window of her train to her brothers. The physical rendition of the story is affecting, especially the movement of the train and the action by the girl.

One thing that absolutely works throughout is the music by the composer/guitarist/sound designer Kato Hideki. It seamlessly merges with the striking visuals and accentuates the poignancy of the stories. I could listen to him forever. Luba Kierkosz's costume design is stylish and refined, serving the physical movements to perfection.

After the Rain is written, designed, and directed by Watoku Ueno, and according to the program note, the scenes were created by the artists of Yara in rehearsal. Hats off to the artistry he and his company have put into the entire look of the show. It is breathtakingly exquisite. It is also a worthy attempt to wed literature to theatre, and the traditional Japanese art of shadow puppet, costumes, and music to modern dance and multimedia. Although the classic stories by a true master need more dramatization to deliver their emotional punch, the open-hearted sincerity of the piece never slackens, and neither does its spirit of innovation. There are two shows here, and one of them works like a dream.

Tiger Rising

Just another weblog

December 7th was the last session of Together program at Long Island City Community Library in Queens (LIC). Our theme for that day was “Courage” and we discussed very complex, challenging and a beautiful book  the “Tiger Rising” by Kate diCamillo.

 I also asked theatre artists Watoku Ueno and Makoto Takeuchi to create a 10-15 min. shadow puppet show and they presented a beautiful work. The piece was composed as a sequence of symbolic images (from the book ) accompanied by music.  

The images combined with a book brought very engaged discussion and deeper understanding of the story. Both parents and children responded to Rob’s and Sistine’s emotional upheavals and found similarities in their own life.  This story  touches many people on a very personal level as they dealt with their own emotions.

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