“A Noh Christmas Carol”—Hypnotic, Haunting Holiday Treat, at Yugen, S.F.
Nick Ishimaru Switches Up Our Dickens’ Lens
by Carly Van Liere
We’ve seen A Christmas Carol a million times. On big stages like ACT’s, in movies and theaters, on TV Christmas specials. We have all encountered Dickens’ Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet-to-Come . At Theatre of Yugen’s “A Noh Christmas Carol,” we get the opportunity to engage with the story in a Japanese theatrical framework. Director Nick Ishimaru uses classical Noh and Kabuki techniques to bring us closer to the story’s deep emotional truths.
When Ebezo Sukurooji (graceful, fierce Simone Bloch) emerges as Ebenezer Scrooge, he is dressed in traditional Japanese theatrical white face paint and elegant robe-pants, with hands neatly folded behind his back. Sukurooji’s words burst out—sharp, short, and packed with punch—a self-styled ruling class “victim.”
The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet-to-Come (charming Rachael Richman) come to Ebezo in fabulous masks and costumes that elicit laughter and enchanted smiles. One is a jolly fellow in a mask, another a twinkling dancing lady-spirit. Their entrances are mystical, as the spirits trace lines on the stage with small pattering steps.
Although the Japanese Noh style is unique, “Noh Carol” revives Dickens’ fluidity and magic. Set designer Josh McDermott keeps the action dreamy, sparkling, and fascinating. Spirits enter and exit through a fabulous Moon Door. Gorgeous red paper orbs hang from strings, reminiscent of Christmas ornaments. The lanterns beautifully recall the tale’s Victorian origin.
Moments like Ebezo’s bedtime rituals and his memories of his past love, Emily, become long, trance-like dances. These moments are magical, but also quiet and hypnotic. So, we have to be on the alert for the softness and subtlety of the Noh form.
The verbal articulation of the text sets this production far from our Western comfort zone. The actors speak with a Japanese cadence and lilt, strange to English rhythms, but transforming to follow. I found the text clearer than traditional pronunciation because the speaking patterns pique my curiosity and help me listen to emotions.
I recommend “A Noh Christmas Carol” to everyone. Nick Ishimaru has created a breathtaking rendition of Dickens’ classic, full of surprises, hypnotic in its beauty and originality.
By viewing A Christmas Carol through another culture’s lens, we come closer to its truths in our time. As Ebezo traverses the spirit world, he reveals how people live on earth, and he re-discovers the people he knows. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, he finally rejects the false gods of wealth and status.
“A Noh Christmas Carol” directed by Nick Ishimaru, at Theatre of Yugen, 2480 Mariposa Street, San Francisco, 94110, through Sunday, December 30, 2018. Info: theatreofyugen.org
Cast: Simone Bloch, Zoe Chien, Steven Flores, Mikah Kavita, and Rachael Richman.
Banner photo: Steven Flores