Review: 'Rashomon' at Ubuntu Theater Project

Review: 'Rashomon' at Ubuntu Theater Project

Jordan Nickels

When several come forward, claiming to speak the truth, we look for truth. That is the dilemma in Ubuntu Theater Project’s Rashomon, adapted for the stage by Philip Kan Gotanda.

Rashomon is based on Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's short stories “Rashomon” and “In the Grove,” which later inspired the 1950 Japanese film of the same name. In this stage production, Akutagawa looks on as the Woodcutter, Wigmaker, and Priest discuss the discovery of a dead samurai’s body. They hear testimony from the Bandit, who interacted with the Samurai, the Samurai’s, the Samurai himself from the beyond, and the Woodcutter, who we learned witnessed the event.

Crossing back and forth between the present and the stories of each witness, the ensemble take on dual roles as Akutagawa occasionally intervenes with his creations. Each actor brought something different between their two roles; Christine Jamlig an excellent sense of chaos with the Wigmaker and control with the Wife, Jomar Tagatac balanced reserve with strength between the Woodcutter and the Samurai, and Ogie Zuleta went from holy man to a man equally hilarious and revolting in his behavior. Steven Ho who played the writer Akutagawa, was charming and brought an excellent sense of playful sarcasm to the source material.

The script was both hilarious and powerful, and credit goes to playwright Philip Kan Gotanda for adding new layers to a story surrounding such an iconic piece of Japanese film. Rashomon delved deep into the famous plot convention the original film created, of multiple characters providing subjective yet alternative accounts of the same incident. However, this story not only played on fact and fiction, but also on the mental stability and spirituality of these characters.

What holds the mind together? What holds the soul together?  The audience is challenged to not only find the answers, but also question the validity of the source. Once a lie is spoken, it can become a truth. Speaks volumes to the current dilemma in our culture of how we are getting our information. 

I was also blown away by the space in which the play was performed, which looked very much like a Japanese style kabuki theater.  The set was littered with manuscripts and tossed away ideas, a barrier of paper that Akutagawa had to navigate to get to his story. The scenic design made its own statement, as well as the dramatic lighting design.

If you love Japanese storytelling and new works, go see this spectacular production of Rashomon by the Ubuntu Theater Project in Oakland. Running now through September 17th, tickets can be purchased at ubuntutheaterproject.com.

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com , Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8

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