- Blue Moon Over Memphisby Deborah Brevoort
A nōperformance is a rare opportunity in Indiana, and English-language nōplay Blue Moon Over Memphis(hereafter Blue Moon) did not disappoint. Earlham College was the second stop of the tour that began at Williams College on 11 March and was "dedicated to those lost and [End Page 204]still recovering from the March 11, 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami, on its 6 thanniversary" (Program 2017).
Theatre Nohgaku (TN) is a Tokyo and North America-based company founded in 2000 by Richard Emmert with thirteen others. Its mission is to "share noh's beauty and power with English-speaking audiences and performers," and to further the expressive possibilities of nōtechniques "in the context of contemporary English-language theatre" (Program 2017). Members have long-term training in traditional nōperformance, which forms the backbone of TN's creative process (O'Connor 2016). In recent years TN has done a series of original English-language productions that employ elements of traditional nōto treat contemporary themes, including Pagoda(2009, 2011) by Jannette Cheong (Richard Emmert, composer), Zahdi Dates and Poppies(2016) by Carrie Preston (David Crandall, composer), and Blue Moon(2016, 2017) (see "Repertory" 2017).
Founding member David Crandall began with an introduction to nōand demonstrated the short dance "Tama no dan" (Scene of the Jewel) (See Ama2017). The chorus chanted an English translation composed by Crandall. Both dance and translation were gracefully executed, and the chorus (Kevin Salfen [leader], Gary Mathews, Thomas O' Connor, and Lluis Valls) provided well synchronized support. Next was a medley of nōinstrumental music, opening on a lyrical and introspective mood and gradually building to an exhilarating finale, executed by Mariko Anno (flute), and drummers James Ferner ( kotsuzumi), Takako Kawauchi (ō tsuzumi), and Richard Emmert ( taiko). Such a medley, rare on nōprograms in Japan, is effective for spotlighting both the range of nōinstrumentals and the musicians' skill.
The third entry was Blue Moon Over Memphis, product of a seven-year collaboration between TN—especially Richard Emmert, who composed the music—and award-winning American playwright Deborah Brevoort, best known for her 2003 The Women of Lockerbie(on the Pan Am 103 crash with over 400 productions in ten languages). Brevoort began working on the Elvis topic in 1993 and published an earlier version of the script (Brevoort 2006).
Why Elvis? Brevoort (Program 2017)characterizes nōas a meditative theatre whose aim is to "explore, poetically and rhythmically, a single emotion" and explains, "There is often the appearance of a ghost of a famous dead person and the text is inspired by poetry that is known to the audience." She was searching for "a way to bring this meditative form of drama into the American theatre. What story did we have that everyone would know so well that I wouldn'thaveto tellit?" In the Indiana post performance discussion Brevoort noted it was important to "go to pop culture because that is what everyone can share." [End Page 205]
Elements of traditional nōinclude acting informed by intense inner concentration and physical discipline, non-realistic patterns of movement and vocalization, an instrumental ensemble, an open stage, and masks and costumes that are themselves artworks. For those unfamiliar with the form, a nōperformance may take getting used to. However, ready familiarity with rock-and-roll idol Elvis Presley—both dead and alive—should facilitate a more intimate experience of the form. Also, as Blue Moondirector and lead performer John Oglevee observed, "The audience already has something they can relate to beyond the form" (Rogers 2017: 50).
Blue Moondepicts an encounter between Elvis's ghost (Oglevee) and a true-blue fan named Judy (Jubilith Moore). It is August. Judy has traveled to Graceland for the annual 15–16 August Candlelight Vigil remembering Elvis's death. The site is Elvis's grave in the Memorial Garden under the light of the blue moon. Judy, there along with thousands of other (imaginary) pilgrims...