On February 8 and 9, San Francisco-based Theatre of Yugen will come to Philadelphia for the East Coast Premiere of “A Minor Cycle: Five Little Plays in One Starry Night.” Held at the Painted Bride, these performances draw heavily on a variety of Japanese theatrical themes and traditions – including noh, kyogen, andkabuki – while incorporating modern ideas and flair. This production is a collaboration between Yugen and Philadelphia’s own Greg Giovanni and is meant to be an exploration of the stories and songs of childhood – featuring dragons, toy soldiers, and ghosts.
As you might have guessed from the title, each evening’s performance will be composed of five short plays:
- The Gramarye
- Steadfast Memory
- St. Matthew’s Fair
- Lady Jingly Jones
- George, Agnes, and the Dragon
The Painted Bride Art Center presents the unabashedly sentimental East Coast premiere of A Minor Cycle: Five Little Plays in One Starry Night. As wild, romantic, and funny as childhood, this production is a journey of discovery for the young, and of remembrance for the old. Featuring five new one-act plays based on famous tales and forgotten stories of childhood, each receives the exquisite veneer of traditional Japanese artistry, be it the ritualistic Noh theater, the earthy Kyogen, the flamboyant Kabuki or the delicate Bunraku. Ghosts, dragons, and toy soldiers will dance across the stage employing the undeniable beauty of these four traditional Japanese theatre forms
Written in an ensemble process in Theatre of Yugen’s first collaboration with renowned Philadelphia-based playwright Greg Giovanni, along with musical compositions by Yugen’s Associate Ensemble Member and thingamajigs Artistic Director Edward Schocker, this theatrical tour de force invites audiences to simultaneously experience the age-old, the eternal and the ever new in a journey to that magical time “when every road led onward.”
A great lover of theatrical conventions, Greg Giovanni has been called unconventional, even iconoclastic. He refers to himself as “an old punk” prominent in the Philadelphia underground theater scene for several decades. Greg made his name in Philadelphia by writing and producing a large body of work that includes romantic melodrama, historical farces, and gritty indictments of social problems (most notably the Columbine Massacre), all with a delight in spectacle and sound. His work is often comic but always with an edge of pathos, with much cause to pity and to laugh.
A brief project history:
Greg Giovanni and Jubilith Moore met at Richard Emmert’s annual Noh Training Project based in Bloomsburg, PA in 1999. As part of the Project for many years, Greg created wonderful non-traditional pieces that he nicknamed, ‘tiny noh for tots.’ He was bringing together his love of children’s literature and the formal theatrical stylization inherent to Noh. These pieces were always the highlight of the final recital and always brought down the house. In 2008, Greg approached Jubilith with the idea of what he called a ‘Kyogen Cycle’ putting several of these on the same bill and utilizing the armature of a traditional Noh Cycle to hang these pieces upon. The central figure for each of the plays would be defined and would follow this traditional order: we would start with the god play, followed by the warrior play, the woman play, the mad-woman play and conclude with the demon play.
Many of the ‘tiny nohs’ were delightfully comic, but after some time, it was felt that they weren’t close enough to the essence of Kyogen for the work to have integrity. Jubilith suggested branching out to the full cannon of traditional Japanese performing arts (inclusive of Bunraku and Kabuki) and as Greg says, ‘the idea crystalized as soon as it fell from her lips.’ Thus, the shape of A Minor Cycle was born. Holding onto the central figures of Noh, (god, warrior, woman, mad-woman, and demon) we began to look for the perfect marriage of content and form. Greg began mining his childhood, and Jubilith began researching the traditional Japanese arts as well as catching up on a childhood’s worth of reading.
The five plays will alternate with “The Darling Song Cycle.” Composed by Edward Schocker with words by Giovanni, the Song Cycle is based on J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.” Six musical duets that alternate with the five short plays and tell the comic tragedy of George and Mary Darling—the parents that Wendy, John, and Michael left behind on their voyage to Neverland.
Sheila Berotti, Greg Giovanni, Nick Ishimaru, Sara Matsui-Colby, Jubilith Moore, Lluis Valls
Written by Greg Giovanni with Theatre of Yugen; Directed by Jubilith Moore; Set Design by Josh McDermott; Costume Design by Martha Stookey and Jennifer Landau; Light Design by Stephen Siegel; Masks by Hideta Kitazawa; Additional Composition by Dylan Bolles (Steadfast Memory and Lady Jingly Jones) and James Ferner (St. Matthew’s Fair)
About Theatre of Yugen
Theatre of Yugen is an experimental ensemble dedicated to the pursuit of the intangible essence of Yugen. With a foundation in Japanese Noh drama and Kyogen comedy, we create works of world theatre by crafting original material and exploring dramatic and literary classics. By presenting and collaborating we continue the evolution of live performance and foster intercultural understanding. And by training and educating, we keep the legacy of theatrical discipline alive.
Founded by Yuriko Doi in 1978, Theatre of Yugen’s work has played to great acclaim in San Francisco and on national and international tours for three decades. Recent highlights of past seasons include Erik Ehn’s Noh-distilled Frankenstein, Jubilith Moore’s adaptation of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Lluis Valls’ Don Q, the all-day performance event The Cycle Plays, Jubilith Moore’s adaptation of Candide, or Optimism, and Dogsbody commissioned and presented by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. 2012 / 2013 productions include the touring production of Cordelia, scheduled to perform at La MaMa E.T.C., A Minor Cycle; SORYA!; and Emmett Till – A River. Currently, Artistic Director Jubilith Moore leads Theatre of Yugen.