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Reviewed by:
  • Theatre of Yugen, 25 Years: A Retrospective
  • Judy Halebsky
Theatre of Yugen, 25 Years: A Retrospective. Edited by Erik Ehn. San Francisco: Theatre of Yugen, 2004. 115 pp. Paper $25.00; institutions $15.00.

Theatre of Yugen, 25 Years, edited by American playwright and a theatre collaborator Erik Ehn, documents how a Japanese theatre practice of and kyōgen through the work of director Yuriko Doi took root in San Francisco. It [End Page 299] notes the struggles, adaptations, and transformations that enabled these arts to bloom in American soil.

A central issue in the work of Theatre of Yugen is a constant negotiation of location. This begins with straightforward issues of Doi's move from Japan to the United States in 1967 and the company's nomadic existence before procuring their NOHspace theatre in 1991. More figuratively, the shifting included movement between classical kyōgen/nō training and performance with the Nomura family of Japan and innovative adaptations of European tales in works such as Frankenstein (October 2004) and Nō Christmas Carol (December 1993). The struggle of negotiating location—culturally, physically, and theatrically—is reflected in a chronology of the theatre's production history. Productions are divided into six categories: classic kyōgen, modern kyōgen, modern or experimental nō, fusion, contemporary Japanese, and contemporary American (p. 37).

The work of the company is continually renamed, relabeled, and reframed. The company has sustained a rich body of work for twenty-five years, thus the lack of a definitive location reflects the unique mission of the company and an American resistance to allowing Japanese performance techniques into the canon of practical theatre methods.

In an interview with Ehn, Doi confronts the critics who suggest that the company meet audience expectations by speeding up the pace and by employing naturalized speech rather than the stylized vocal techniques of nō/kyōgen. Doi is teaching in two directions: she is training actors but also educating audiences to access the form without adjusting to Western expectations of performance.

This book commemorates Doi's long career as the director and founder of the theatre, but also shares with the audience and theatre community the formal and aesthetic qualities of Theatre of Yugen productions. There is a section that defines key terms in the practice of Japanese performance such as the effervescent beauty of yugen and aesthetic build from beginning to climax to resolution in nō's jo-ha-kyu. There are also sections on training, production history, and tours the company has made. Contained within these is a history of the international practice of nō/kyōgen and insight into the performance philosophy of the art.

The book juxtaposes the first mission statement of the company with a more recent version. The early statement reflected the theatre's aim of fusion theatre within the forms of and kyōgen, celebrating the work of the theatre as "the only company in the United States that exclusively performs the 600 year-old Noh and Kyogen styles of theatre" (p. 7). The recent mission statement of fostering "intercultural understanding" reflects a change from the fusion of two delineated locations to a more liminal and fluid aim.

Much like nō, Theatre of Yugen, 25 Years is full of dreams and images. Erik Ehn, designer Libby Zilber, and contributing writers document the development of Yuriko Doi's company in San Francisco through performance histories, personal stories, and humorous anecdotes, illuminated by stunning photographs. Though at first glance this might seem like a decorative coffee [End Page 300] table commemoration of the company, the book is much more. The pages offer great understanding of the work of theatre practitioners in the United States who are cultivating contemporary theatre through a sustained, embodied practice of nō/kyōgen.

Judy Halebsky
University of California, Davis


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pp. 299-301
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