Tennessee Williams and Yukio Mishima: The 14th Annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, Part 3
(This review features all but one of the performances I saw over the weekend of the festival. I am working on a scholarly review of Abrahamse and Meyer’s The Night of the Iguana for the Tennessee Williams Annual Review, and therefore cannot include a review of the show here.)
The Black Lizard / Yukio Mishima / Provincetown TW Festival & Texas Tech University
The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival brings together an international array of performers and productions each and every year, which provides individuals the opportunity to see work that would otherwise be inaccessible to them. And yet the festival not only invites these artists to Provincetown, but also has them work together on a reading of a play. As this play is always a reading with scripts in hand and features actors who are generally working on other projects in the festival, it is never a fully polished complete production. Despite this fact, I think that a play reading provides an exciting chance for people to see the page-to-stage process in media res.
The Black Lizard is a hilariously campy Yukio Mishima play that has been immortalized in a 1968 film of the same name. Full of intrigue, disguises, deceptions, and love, the play featured a robust cast led by Yuhua Hamasaki in the titular role. Hamasaki did a great job of hitting the comic timing and also really playing off of her scene partners. She was joined by the charming James Yaegashi as the detective Kogoro Akechi, who is in love with the very criminal he seeks. Yaegashi’s Akechi is hired by Shobei Iwase (Alan Ariano) to protect his daughter Sanae Iwase (Virginia Fuentes) from the Black Lizard’s grasp. Their plan is complicated by Black Lizard’s impressive ability to masquerade as other people, which is matched only by Akechi’s ability to do the same. Black Lizard lusts after the detective who chases her just as her henchman Jun’ichi Amamiya (Dylan Arredondo) longs for her. I was impressed at how much these actors managed to live in the same campy world with such minimal rehearsal and give director Jesse Jou, and the performers, a great deal of credit. The performances were delightfully funny and really sold the world of the play, as did Nasu Onoda Power’s simple and beautiful set design. Power’s eye for aesthetics was already on display in The Lady from the Village of Falling Flowers, but here her designs showed yet another side of her creativity. The set consisted of decorated parasols which moved the piece through space in an astonishingly effective way. The play itself was a bit long, especially with the intermission taken so far from the middle of the piece, but otherwise this was a very successful reading.
Songs I Learned from My Grandmother / Featuring George Maurer
This evening cabaret performance was unlike anything I have ever witnessed at the festival. Organized around talented pianist George Maurer, individuals shared a series of songs and stories somehow connected to their grandmothers. This sounds deceptively simple, I know, and I had no idea what to expect when I sat down. What followed was a series of actors, directors, volunteers, technical theatre people, and festival guest Kathleen Turner sharing songs from their past with us. The impressive cultural diversity saw us moving from actual grandmothers in Brazil, Cyprus, and French-speaking Canada through the chosen family of queer community. Seeing all of these stories, and more, on stage made the evening an exciting window into the wide array of experiences the collective members of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival come from and have. I am a proud member of this community, but I don’t know nearly as much about my fellow attendees as I want to. This event was an excellent reminder that storytelling happens in so many different ways even within the theatre. The evening was just one of many moments during this festival where I paused to reflect on how many new kinds of performance were presented this season. I cannot stress enough how exciting I found this to be, and although I do not necessarily expect such events to happen each and every year in the future, I want to encourage the festival team to notice how much the audience enjoyed these things.
The Day on Which a Man Dies / Tennessee Williams / Provincetown TW Festival
Williams’s one-act play The Day on Which a Man Dies is perhaps the most direct connection between Yukio Mishima and Williams. The play features a character who is a direct reference to Mishima, a narrator who steps into the latter part of the play to comment on the painter’s self-destruction. This piece has been mounted twice within the past ten years of the festival, and so festival Curator David Kaplan opted not to bring it back again. Instead, Kaplan created an art installation of large photographs from a series of production of the play and chose to recreate the final moments of the play for a few performances inside of the art gallery. After a brief explanation of the plot of the play, and the context of the photos surrounding the audience, Kaplan introduced performer Niall Ng, who performed the final moments of the play as the Mishima-like character who describes what the story means. Kaplan’s direction of the scene includes a pivotal moment during which Ng cut the circular hole you see in the photo above, and this short presentation provided a great deal of information about this production I did not have the opportunity to see. It was yet another example of a creative way of exploring Williams’s work in other formats.
Overall, this was a really exciting season of programming for the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival! The sheer number of new kinds of performances was energizing to the entire festival, but also remained in keeping with the themes. I think the variety of short pieces was also a smart programming choice, which I hope continues. There were not as many Williams plays as I normally see here, but the ones that were chosen made sense and gained a great deal from being paired with the other material. Bravo to David Kaplan and the rest of the festival team! I look forward to next year. In the meantime, as Williams would say, en avant!