My memories of the Academy Award-winning Kurosawa film of the same name gave me pause that Roshomon could be pulled off as a one-act play on a tiny stage. What could the theatergoer divine from a stark black backdrop ornamented with a smattering of bamboo stalks? I mean not to prejudge but to pack a suitcase full of curiosity.
In this pared down production James McDaniel, David James and Diane Linton Sams seamlessly portray nine characters. McDaniels as priest, deputy, husband and mother; James as woodcutter and bandit; and Sams as wigmaker, wife and shaman weave an intricate tale full of truths, half-truths and outright lies in this powerful story reminiscent of Japanese Noh theatre.
In the ancient city of Kyoto a trial is underway for the murder of a samurai warrior and the rape of his wife. Suspicion hangs over the bandit, the samurai and his wife in this elegant and stark thriller. Motives are debated and self-serving explanations are rampant. Events flow backward and forward in time while each character explains their version, yet there is only one real witness: the bandit.
And his version of the events, along with the real or imagined tales from the other participants, is in question.
The wigmaker, priest and woodcutter devise their individual theories on the murder and rape based on their egotistical and self-serving views of life. Indeed, great director Donald Richie once said of his film version of Rashomon, Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing. The sentiment is echoed by the Holy Man, A man doesnt look for his soul in a mirror.
An exchange between the Wigmaker and the Woodcutter informs the audience:
Wigmaker: Which one of these stories do you believe?
Woodcutter: None makes any sense.
Wigmaker: Don’t worry about it. It isn’t as if men were reasonable.
This small but tightly acted play is further enhanced by two Hayashi musicians, played by Randy Sena and Jung Weil who sit cross-legged on opposite sides of the stage paralleling the shifting roles with a series of percussive sounds. Sena and Weil use a collection of instruments to dramatic effect, among them a Cuban drum, a gavel, a recorder, a childs lyre, Japanese wooden clappers and a copper gong as spotlighting. Kimono costume changes cue the audience to the changing characters.
Rashomon was adapted for the Broadway stage by husband-and-wife collaborators Faye and Michael Kanin in 1961. Michael was the brother of Garson Kanin and worked with Ring Lardner Jr. After a long career writing screenplays, Faye went on to be president of the Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Rashomon is a compelling production that explores the mysteries and foibles of human interaction and its subsequent interpretation. Perfectly cast and dramatically directed and costumed by Howard Vincent Kurtz, it is highly recommended.
Roshomon plays eeekends through November 21 at The Lab at Convergence, 1801 North Quaker Lane. For tickets and information call 703-838-2880 or visit www.PortCityPlayhouse.com.