Arts & Events

AROUND AND ABOUT THEATER: Theatre of Yugen Stages ‘This Lingering Life’

Ken Bullock
Thursday June 05, 2014 - 05:20:00 PM

Theatre of Yugen has produced plays for 35 years based on the techniques of traditional Japanese theater, especially Kyogen comedy and Noh lyrical tragedy (to us, a contradiction in terms) and plays celebrating legend and myth. The actors employ rigorous physical techniques based in Japanese dance, patterns and movement often reminiscent of the martial arts. This San Francisco company is in many ways unique in its pursuit of both the practice of an ancient art—Nohgaku, as Noh and Kyogen are jointly referred to, is the oldest continuously staged theater form in the world—and experimenting at marrying these techniques to what’s written today.

In the past, great European playwrights like W. B. Yeats and Bertolt Brecht have turned to Noh, in particular, for inspiration when writing plays; Yukio Mishima also produced a series of plays based on Noh, but re-set in the contemporary world. New York-based playwright Chiori Miyagawa has written ’This Lingering Life,’ premiered by Yugen this Friday in a two-week run, with 28 characters in 24 scenes, the intersecting, overlapping stories based on nine classic Noh plays re-imagined as contemporary, or in a timeless world, today and the past blended together. 

The production will also be the last for outgoing artistic director Jubilith Moore, a veteran of over two decades with the company, 12 years as either joint or sole artistic director after the retirement of founding artistic director Yuriko Doi. Besides directing ‘This Lingering Life, Jubilith plays the role of the Woman With Tragic Hair, a kind of go-between for the audience with the cock-eyed world unfolding out of Miyagawa’s reading of the stories from Noh, which features very contemporary, often humorous interpretations of traditional motifs and techniques—like women’s roles played by men, as on the classical Japanese stage—acted out in a modern setting, using old forms of performance ... Joining forces with Jubilith will be longtime comrade in Yugen, Lluis Valls, another seasoned student of the form and a splendid performer, plus seven other actors, some longtime collaborators, some new to the Yugen stage.

Jubilith Moore’s direction of ‘Emmett Till—A River’ last year, an ambitious chamber play combining the tragic murder of a teenaged black man from Chicago while visiting relatives in the South—which shocked the nation and supplied further motivation to the Civil Rights Movement—was a kind of watershed for Yugen, at the beginning of its anniversary, combining a modern news story with the form of an ancient Noh play, maybe more successfully than in previous adaptations. ‘This Lingering Life,’ also with a short run, is ambitious, but in some ways puts the troupe back on more familiar territory. The production values alone—costumes, set design and the quality of staging—should make it an absorbing experience, something unique in contemporary American theater, but right here for us at home.

Wednesdays-Thursdays at 7, Fridays-Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 2 through June 14. Z Space, 450 Florida (at 17th Street), formerly Theatre Artaud, Mission District, San Francisco. $15-$50. (415) 626-0453;