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1 COMPABATIVE i ama Volume 29Fall 1995Number 3 Trolls, Trills, and Tofu: Ibsen, Verdi, and Kabuki Leonard C. Pronko We are the heirs of a great tradition which we can call the Greco-Judeo-Christian. It is made up ofPlatonic idealism, Aristotelian realism, Judaic monotheism, Cartesian rationalism, and Newtonian mechanism. Perhaps it is time to add Einsteinian relativism . But these gifts from the past, which help shape our identity and give us spiritual strength, can also bind us like prison bars. If we fail to examine them they become, as Ibsen reminds us in one of his most famous plays, like ghosts haunting us, ideas that may be dead but that still cling to us. Mrs. Alving tells Pastor Manders: I started going over your teachings, seam by seam. I just wanted to pull out a single thread; but after I'd worked it loose, the whole design fell apart. And then I realized it was only basted.1 How can we escape these prisons to which we are conditioned from childhood? One way is certainly through the imagination ; and art is the realm of the imagination. Although much 303 304Comparative Drama Western art is dominated by those imprisoning traditions, it offers escape hatches. Of all the arts, the theater is the one that can probably give us the most effective release from our prison, because theater actualizes. As David Cole has reminded us, the theater makes the invisiblepresent; it gives us the paradoxical experience of living what is imagined as though it were reality itself .2 It is only in the last hundred years that we have begun to become aware of those prison bars, and to discern the great treasures that lie beyond them: Asia, the Pacific Rim, all those areas untouched by the grace or blight—depending on your point of view—of the Greco-Judeo-Christian tradition. Unlike post-Cartesian theater in the West, these great traditional theaters have not settled for anything less than everything! We, however, trusting almost entirely to the left hemisphere of the brain, by and large did away with imaginative life and poetry and centered our dramas on everyday situations expressed in prosaic language. Only romanticism brought a pause in the decline, but since the mid-nineteenth century we have continued to slide down the slope from grand opera to soap opera. It is with a healthy sense of liberation that we leap between our prison bars and experience the imaginative, heroic, suggestive , stylized, participative, total theater of the people who escaped the Greco-Judeo-Christian influence. There is an immense richness here, without even mentioning India and Africa or Native America; but because I have Trolls and Trills to treat as well as Tofu, I shall restrict myself to Kabuki, and the reader may understand that much of what I say about that form applies to all the countries where Tofu has become a way of life. Tofu may be defined, if I may cite The American Heritage Dictionary, as "a protein-rich food coagulated from an extract of soybeans and used in salads and cooked foods. To = bean, fu = fermented, curdled." Tofu can stand for what is substantial, what is physical, what is real. It is also a food and has, however faintly , a taste and a smell, as well as texture and color; therefore it responds to four of the five senses, and can represent sensual appeal as well. Kabuki, like tofu, exercises a broad sensual appeal; it is, in fact, a total theater. Enchanting us through every element available to theater—actor, music, costume, setting, movement, speech, song, sounds, light, color, etc.—Kabuki is above all a theater of the actor, and of the total actor; that is to say, an actor who uses his body as a dancer, his voice as a singer—and who Leonard C. Pronko305 projects character as a Western actor does. Larger than life, Kabuki ranges from Dionysian to Apollonian, appealing to right and left brain. The traditional audience attends it in the spirit ofa picnic , a circus, a relaxed place that yet allows one to enter into a world of immense emotions and heroic actions of great scope. The first characteristic...


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