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  • Seeing & Hearing Anew on Theater of a two-Headed Calf's Drum of the Waves of Horikawa
  • Ellie M. Hisama (bio)

A song, as distinct from the bodies it takes over, is unfixed in time and place. … A song while filling the present hopes to reach a listening ear in some future somewhere. It leans forward, further and further. Without the persistence of this hope, songs, I believe, would not exist. Songs lean forward.

—John Berger1

Experiencing the Theater of a Two-headed Calf's dazzling reading of Chikamatsu's Drum of the Waves of Horikawa (1707) was a revelation. In viewing representations by white Americans of Asian theater and artistic practices, my everpresent concern about practices of postorientalist domination continuing unabated into the twenty-first century in new manifestations and altered forms was immediately allayed by this illuminating and unflinching production.2

Director Brooke O'Harra and composer and sound artist Brendan Connelly approach [End Page 79] Chikamatsu's text—first staged in 1707—as a living document, one that can be molded and modernized rather than frozen and fetishized, held sacred and untouchable.3 O'Harra brings together kabuki and punk in retelling the centuries-old tale of Otane, a woman who is assaulted by the samurai Eesogay Yougayman [Isobe Yukaemon in Chikamatsu's play] while her husband, the samurai Ogah Hecouldkillyou [Ogura Hikokurō], is in service at Edo. She notes:

[W]e actually build all of our dance movements; like our kabuki movement in our play right now Drum of the Waves of Horikawa is actually taken off YouTube. Everything is directly gleaned from YouTube. So it's all of this old footage of The Slits and then we pull out what looks formal and what looks like kabuki and it looks like everyone's doing kabuki, but our source material is all from YouTube. So we're not making up any of our moves and we're not inventing kabuki.4

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Figure 1.

Otane (Heidi Schreck) and her sister Ofuji (Tatiana Pavela) doing the laundry. With the maid (Laryssa Husiak) narrating. From Brooke O'Harra, Drum of the Waves of Horikawa (2007). Photo by Nina Hoffmann. Image courtesy of the artist.

Two-headed Calf's production is forged from many disparate elements: footage of punk and rock concert performances; dialogue from some of Preston Sturges's films from the 1940s (Hail the Conquering Hero and The Lady Eve) interposed in Chikamatsu's text; and white actors dressed in a mix of modern [End Page 80] and traditional garb (Otane wears a modified yukata with a mini-kilt, stockings, and thigh-high boots). Connelly's score for two drum sets, electric bass, keyboards, and voice provides a rich resource for the drama. Written as 360 "boxes of scores," or a collection of notes that could be performed as needed according to the movement on stage,5 the music can be stretched out as a vamp according to the timing of the actor, pushed and pulled in dialogue with the live stage action. Alternately anxious, confident, jaunty, propulsive, and dark-hued, the score precisely matches the production's modern texture.

O'Harra's work on Drum of the Waves of Horikawa evoked for me Agnés Varda's conception of artistic gleaning. In discussing her film Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse [The Gleaners and I], in which she collects stories and images of gleaners at work picking up and recycling various objects, Varda observes, "there's another kind of gleaning, which is artistic gleaning. You pick ideas, you pick images, you pick emotions from other people, and then you make it into a film."6 From a collection of variegated materials, O'Harra deftly stitches together a distinctly feminist enactment of the play, one that allows the audience to view critically the brutality of the sexual violence Otane experiences while she was intoxicated. In their portrayal of Yougayman's assault of Otane and, in its aftermath, the swift closing in of Otane's world, Two-headed Calf joins other feminist dramatic productions of resistance depicting sexual violence on stage.7

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Figures 2 and...


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pp. 79-84
Launched on MUSE
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