- Shōjo to akuma to fūshagoya (The Girl Without Hands) and Honmono no fianse (The True Bride) Written by Olivier Py and directed by Miyagi Satoshi
Imagine an all-white stage with its top left corner folded down like a sheet of paper. All the props, including the costumes, are also white, except for the devil’s black clothing, and look as though they were made of pieces of paper folded to appear three-dimensional. Indeed, the whole stage looks like a large piece of origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. The two-dimensional quality of the stage is enhanced further by the use of shadows, presumably influenced by wayang kulit, the traditional Indonesian shadow play. Shadows also act, as it were, as the shadowy doubles of both characters and objects, making the paper-thin originals look even more abstract and insubstantial. This minimalist yet complex visual effect constantly blurs and redraws the boundaries between reality and illusion, truth and [End Page 344] falsehood, and life and death, the eternal conflicts around which the Grimms’ two innocent persecuted heroine tales, “The Girl Without Hands” and “The True Bride,” revolve.
Japanese director Miyagi Satoshi’s postmodern staging of the Grimms’ tales creates a surprisingly enchanting harmony between different cultural traditions. Miyagi, born in 1959 in Tokyo, has been known for his experimental intermingling of classic Western texts with traditional Asian theatrical techniques. He earlier developed an acting method in which two actors play one role, with one actor taking charge of physical movements and the other delivering all the lines, a method inspired by the traditional Japanese puppet theater Bunraku. As in Bunraku and Noh productions, Miyagi’s play has musicians playing in the corner of the stage (actors also sometimes join them and play music for a while). The origami-like costumes also evoke those used in Noh theater. Drawing on these and other techniques deriving from Asian theatrical traditions, Miyagi boldly reinterprets French director-playwright-actor Oliver Py’s dramatizations of the Grimms’ tales, which have achieved an international reputation (Py’s Girl Without Hands was first performed in 1993, and his True Bride was performed in 2008). In contrast to Py’s production, which both draws on and deconstructs various Western religious, cultural, and aesthetic traditions, Miyagi’s production makes use of non-Western cultural traditions to shed a new light on the symbolic depths of European fairy tales.
Miyagi’s origami-like stage also evokes a picture book as a physical object; watching Miyagi’s fairy-tale play resembles an act of reading a picture book, especially because the actors suspend their actions while speaking and, when the page is turned, as it were, they move silently to form the next tableau. To complete the picture book effect, all the performances, conducted in Japanese, are accompanied by digital English subtitles on both sides of the stage. As the audience reads the text while hearing it spoken by the actors, they fall under the illusion that the actors are also reading, rather than acting or representing, the unfolding story at the same time as the audience. This effect is intended by Miyagi, who stated in an interview that he told the actors to try not to memorize their lines so that they would sound as though words were coming down from the sky like rain, reaching them and the audience at the same time. Actors, therefore, become puppets through which words—words that belong to no particular individual—flow out. This unusual acting method is related to Miyagi’s intention to subvert what he calls the masculine tradition in modern theater in which words are used as a means of expressing individuals’ minds to impose or, to use his word, dominate the world. His choice of these two [End Page 345] relatively unknown fairy tales by the Grimms, with apparently passive yet firmly determined heroines, seems appropriate for this partly feminist purpose...