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Reviewed by:
  • The Kyōgen of Errors
  • Kathy Foley
The Kyōgen of Errors. Adapted by Takahashi Yasunari from William Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors. Directed by Nomura Mansai. Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco International Arts Festival. 3 June 2005.

This adaptation of Comedy of Errors presented by the Mansaku Nomura Company was developed at Setagya Public Theatre to go to the Globe-to-Globe Festival in London ("Kyōgen of Errors at New Globe" 2001). The late Takahashi Yasunari's text is a pared-down version of Shakespeare's plot of twins and mistaken identity, but the author with director Nomura Mansai added feminine, Shinto, and Buddhist elements, elevating a funny play of stock misunderstandings to a laugh-out-loud kyōgen on the illusion of self. The work was rich with visual elements, plot complications, acting style, and multivocal meanings.

Visually, the empty square of a stage and the Shakespearean platform with its upper story were united in the set designed by Horio Yukio. As the play starts, the typical masculine pine image is nowhere to be seen. The backdrop is of flowing white silk, which is waterlike in its movement and is etched with sinuous squiggles and a rope design. Director Nomura Mansai (b.1972) later explained that these curvilinear forms represent sperm swimming toward the birth canal and that the rope is the umbilical cord (Nomura 2005). The imagery of white and water was associated with birth, while black and frozenness was linked to death.

The birth image is repeated with costumes; early in the show, chorus members, who have been playing the menacing citizens of Black Island, throw off their dark shroudlike cloaks and light hits their long white pigtails. Like microsperm, the actors' white heads swim toward the backdrop. Finally one breaks through, initiating the birth of two sets of twins. The white central drop is repeatedly used as a shadow screen, while actors also climb to the small second story playing area above it for indoor scenes. Though aspects of the set remind viewers of the stage, the hashigakari (bridgeway) is absent. Instead, on each side of the center stage is an entrance with a snowflakelike mon (crest) on the curtain, one representing White Island and the other Black Island. The entrance helps identify which pair of master and servant twins (White or Black) is entering. The image of a snowflake links to the water theme, reminding us with its frozen setness (snow) that we think we are separable. But the middle is an amorphous world, where everyone is always at sea, mistaking one twin for the next. As with Shakespeare's original, often repeated by the chorus, "It's complicated!" [End Page 294]

The plot is simple mistakes of identity. Ishinosuke of White Island, having been separated from his twin brother and mother in a storm as a child, goes with his servant Tarō Kaja, who is also a twin, to find his brother on Black Island. There, mistaken for his brother, the white Ishinosuke spurns the woman who thinks she is his wife and instead woos his sister-in-law. The women think him possessed and call in a yamabushi (mountain priest). Confusion reigns and no one recognizes who is who. The black-cloaked citizens are menacing and demonic, and soon the ruler is about to kill the white Ishinosuke's father, who has come to seek him. Then their abbess mother who was shipwrecked on this Black Island with black Ishinosuke solves the conundrum. As the show begins the group chants,"Ya-ya-koshi-ya!" (It's complicated). Or is it "Ya-ya-ko-koishi-ya!' (How I long to see my son)? Clearly it is both.

The acting is excellent. A filmed version of the production The Kyogen of Errors: A "Global" Version is available from Columbia Music Entertainment (Mansai 2001), and even the mediated version, with sometimes oddly worded supertitles, captures great actors at work. They evoke stock kyōgen characters—servant, master, women—with economy and form. The timing is precise and richly comic, and the blocking is full of visual gags. Nomura Mannosuke played Naosuke, the ill-starred father (Shakespeare...


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pp. 294-296
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