Play Preview: Japanese Comedies to be Performed at St. Mary’s


In November, students and staff are invited to watch a unique performance entitled “Laughing at Life: a Performance of Kyôgen Plays.” Directed by Theater, Film, and Media Professor Holly Blumner, the play includes four short comical skits in the Kyôgen play form, which originated in Japan in the fourteenth century.

“They used to be performed in between very long, very somber plays that were influenced by Buddhism,” Blumner said. “They are actually very short. We are doing four short plays; there will be three twenty to twenty five minute plays and one seven-minute play. The seven-minute play will be performed in the Japanese language.”

The play in Japanese is called “Iroha: Learning the Alphabet”, and it presents a challenge to the actors who will have to learn to say the lines phonetically. In this play, a father teaches his son the Japanese alphabet, but the child has difficulty concentrating, and gives his father a hard time. According to Blumner, the audience will be provided with English supertitles above the stage so you can read what the actors are saying even though they will be speaking in Japanese.

Another short play is called “Busu: Delicious Poison”, and involves a master, played by Adebisi Tiamiyu, who has two servants. The master doesn’t want his servants to cause any trouble, so he tells them not to touch his barrel because it is allegedly full of poison. Naturally, The servants become extremely curious about it and they end up opening this poison; only to find that it is really sugar. They proceed to consume all of the sugar and develop what Blumner described as a sugar high. After a plethora of silliness, the master comes home and the servants have to explain exactly what happened.

“I am very excited to have a part,” Tiamiyu said. “Especially since I get to be the master. I have never been apart of any other play.”

Another play, entitled “Utsubozaru: The Monkey Bow-Quiver” involves three characters, a monkey, a monkey trainer, and a Japanese lord, called a Daimyô. The Daimyô sees the monkey when he is hunting, setting up the comedic interaction for the characters.

The final play is called “Bôshibari: Tied to a Pole” and also features the master-servant dynamic often seen in Japanese theater.

“In this play, the master doesn’t want to leave the servants alone with his sake,” said Blumner. “There’s a little bit of mischief as the servants steal the sake and get more than a little tipsy.”

The plays will run from Nov. 8 to Nov. 18.

“I hope the St. Mary’s community will come and see it,” said Blumner. “What I find really interesting about these plays is that although they have their origins in the fourteenth century, you find the themes are often really universal. I think as human beings, we all feel joy, we all crave love, and we all have anger and happiness. It’s just interesting to me that you can still laugh at something that was four hundred years ago and in a different culture; but you can still relate.”