Adultery, Blood, Guts and Samurai
November 1, 2007
What happens when you cross Kabuki and punk rock? In “Drum of the Waves of Horikawa,” a co-production of the Theater of a Two-Headed Calf and the Here Arts Center, you get something loud (duh), lively and exploratory, but you also get a confused mishmash.
An adaptation of Monzaemon Chikamatsu’s 1705 play, “Drum” has a simple story: A samurai’s wife, Otane, drinks too much sake and sleeps with another man while waiting for her absent husband to return. The indiscretion costs Otane her life and sets off a quest for vengeance.
The director, Brooke O’Harra, who studied in Japan, obviously sees Kabuki’s conventions and stylizations as a way out of the prison house of theatrical realism. The same goes for punk, which in the company’s words, shares with Kabuki “an appetite for extreme attitude.” The music, by the talented Brendan Connelly, deftly negotiates between that extreme attitude and a more Japanese sound. It’s performed by a crack band of two drummers, a bass player (the excellent Tony Gedrich) and Mr. Connelly on keyboards. Mr. Connelly also acts as a kind of M.C., delivering chatty asides and inviting the audience to partake of cheap beer and sake.
The actors try hard, but only the agile Jess Barbagallo, as Eesogay Yougayman, a samurai who tries to seduce Otane, succeeds in wedding punk energy to Kabuki. But that name! All the male characters have been saddled with sound-alike monikers. Isobe Yukaemon becomes Eesogay Yougayman; Otane’s husband, Ogura Hikokuro, is Ogah Hecouldkillyou; and so on.
There’s probably a point about gender and feminism here, but each time one of these silly names is spoken, the titters fly. That’s a problem: Too much is played for laughs. The punk spirit keeps things light and fast, but mostly works at cross purposes with Chikamatsu’s play, which seems more burlesqued than illuminated by the encounter. Otane’s fate barely registers, nor does the samurai code that demands her death.
Still, there are things to admire in this production. The witty set, by Peter Ksander, looks like a boxing ring, its ropes held up by toilet plungers. And the painted-cardboard costume of Bunrocker, Otane’s son (he’s also her brother, but never mind), liberates whoever puts it on. Yet the uniting of punk and Kabuki doesn’t really help our understanding of either. It remains a marriage of convenience — Ms. O’Harra’s.