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Kabuki revenge served cold and wet.

A cold tale of revenge is the perfect antidote for a hot and humid summer day.

Nakamura Kankuro VI as Lord Hishikawa Shigenobu
May S. Young
Heisei Nakamura-za Kaidan at Lincoln Center Festival 2014
May S. Young

Renowned Kabuki troupe, Heisei Nakamura-Za, served up a visual concoction with a tale of comedy, lust, betrayal, infanticide, horror and revenge ghost story, Kaidan Chibusa No Enoki ('The Ghost Tale of the Wet Nurse Tree'). Kaidan (ghost stories), are very popular plays in the Kabuki repertoire for the summertime. It was believed that ghost stories can “chill” their audiences with fright on a summer evening. This is the third appearance for the troupe at the Lincoln Center Festival. They performed at the festival in 2004 and 2007 under the leadership of the late Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII.

The troupe’s new leader, Nakamura Kankuro VI, played not one, but three roles: Hishikawa Shigenobu (a scholarly painter), Uwabami no Sanji (a con man) and Shosuke (a simpleton servant). Mind you, this was all done with costume and hairpiece changes at breakneck speed. Three different personalities in one play, you have to wonder if the actor suffers from personality disorders at the end. Nakamura Shido plays the honorable on the surface, but conniving on the inside samurai lord, Isogai Namie. Nakamura Shichinosuke II, known for his Onnagata (female impersonator) roles portrays Oseki, Lord Shingenobu’s wife. Kataoka Kamezo plays Matsui Saburo, a man who vows to hunt down Namie and Sanji for their previous crimes. Namie is used to the good life. He schemes his way by rescuing Lady Oseki from being harassed by rogues. He then takes upon himself by becoming an apprentice for Lord Shingenobu. Just when Lord Shigenobu takes on a commission to paint a Buddhist temple, Namie has his way with Oseki. Right in the middle of all this mess, a hapless fool but good-hearted servant to Lord Shigenobu, Shosuke. When Namie convinces Shosuke to not only murder his Lord but also kill Lord Shigenobu and Lady Oseki’s child. Shosuke is torn between his loyalty for his Lord and Namie. Nakamura Kankuro VI brought this simpleton to life with his comical gestures, facial expressions and a voice that was often etched with pain as he wrestled with the grim tasks laid before him by Namie.

All this makes a heady brew for traditional Japanese theater. However, Heisei Nakamura-za had a few tricks up their sleeves for the audiences in New York City. Kyogen actors often put on ten-minute skits in between scenes to keep track of what’s going and provide non sequitur comedy. These Kyogen actors roam around the isles interacting with the audience. However, these actors were doing their skits in English! They went as far calling Isogai Namie a Schmuck and a Scumbag. Since one of the most pivotal scenes involved an epic battle inside a waterfall, actors in kimonos distributed plastic ponchos to folks in the front row. “Protect the Prada!” as one of the actors told the audience.

Nakamura Kanzauro XVIII, passed away in 2012 at the age of 57. Many worried about the legacy of the Heisei Nakamura-za and the future of Kabuki . Their worries were unfounded. Nakamura Kankuro VI exhibits his father’s enthusiasm, passion and general craziness on as well as off stage. He was so animated during the press conference for a mainly Japanese press core. Judging by the performance and his leadership, his late father will be shedding tears of joy knowing his family’s theatrical dynasty is in good hands.

Kaidan Chibusa No Enoki' ('The Ghost Tale of the Wet Nurse Tree')
Adapted from a rakugo narrative by San'yūtei Enchō (1839-1900)
July 7―12, 2014
8 performances, Rose Theater, Frederick P. Rose Hall (Time Warner Center, Broadway at 60th Street)
With: Nakamura Kankuro VI, Nakamura Shichinosuke II, Kataoka Kamezo IV, and Nakamura Shido II
Running time: approximately two hours 30 minutes
Performed in Japanese with English synopsis via a headset.