A fresh take on two Noh plays

Two Modern Noh Plays by Yukio Mishima is a duel production that features two separated plays directed by Kenneth Tynan and Kate Ely.

Two Modern Noh Plays By Yukio Mishima will premiere Sept. 6 and run through Sept. 14 at the Vancity Lab at The Clutch.

The dual production features two plays: Sotoba Komachi, directed by Kenneth Tynan and Hanjo, directed by Kate Ely.

“Both plays dance around the theme of love; the reality of what it means to love someone and the timing of it all,” says Ely.

Sotoba Komachi: a tragic love story

Sotoba Komachi is about an old woman and her former lover, who has been reincarnated with no memory of her, and how their love for each other spans across time,” explains director Tynan.

This may sound like a wonderful Hollywood film, but it’s actually a tragic love story.

Tynan says Sotoba Komachi is a lesson for young people not to be blinded by their young love, but instead to look forward to their future love. At the same time, it is also a lesson to older couples not to forget where their love started and to treasure those moments.

“While we’re young, we get so wrapped up in love and finding romance, that we can sometimes forget to let it naturally happen, while older couples can be too embittered and forget that their youth was beautiful and what made their love so strong to begin with,” he says.

With Sotoba Komachi, Tynan is trying to create both of those experiences at the same time: “I’m trying to create two moments in time: one present, one past.”

He admits those transitions have been tough.

“The actors have to remember when they are in the present and the past, as it is two worlds colliding and the actors must present both time periods differently,” he says.

“As director I’ve attempted to create these beautiful Anastasia moments, as I call them, where these ghostly dancers come in and waltz with the main couple,” says Tynan.

He also says that those moments wouldn’t have been possible without choreographers Christian Lagasse and Jessica Oryall, and composer Quincy Mayes.

Hanjo: a promise to each other

I think Hanjo is an important story because the themes of it are really relatable to people’s lives,” says Ely.

She admits directing Hanjo has been an emotional experience for her: “We are trying to reach the true feelings of anger, love and regret that the characters are living.”

The play is about a geisha named Hanako, who meets and falls in love with a young man in Tokyo; the pair exchange fans as a promise to one day meet again. Two years go by and Hanako is still waiting for her lover’s return, she says.

Ely hopes audiences will be able to see themselves in this piece.

“Pining after a fantasy, being afraid to express your true feelings, not feeling worthy of love, the frustration of not being loved in return and true love taking time and patience to grow,” are all the things that make this piece relatable to others, she says.

Ely also explains that a lot of time and effort went into finding the perfect way to portray the story through set design, to complement the soulful performance of the actors.

Updating traditions

Both Tynan and Ely try to incorporate elements from traditional Noh theatre into their plays. Noh actors would traditionally wear hand carved wooden masks that portray how the character is feeling, and also used fans to emphasize words or actions.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge where these stories originated and how they might have traditionally been performed,” says Tynan. “Incorporating these aspects has been difficult as my actors are not traditionally trained in that sense, but I commend them for taking up the challenge.”

“Though traditionally Noh plays were for an all-male cast, these are not traditional Noh plays,” he continues. The writer, Yukio Mishima, wrote and updated the stories the Noh plays were traditionally told in, even going as far as adding western elements to it, explains Tynan.

Because so many talented women auditioned for Hanjo, Ely and her team decided to make it an all-female cast. “In adding women to the cast, it means that we’re now also updating how traditional plays are presented,” she says.

For more information: www.mtstheatre.com