Thursday, July 6, 2006

No or Noh plays

It is quite impossible to convey, least of all by the printed text, the extraordinary novelty of a No play to an audience which has never seen one. The words are chanted in a slow, choking moan, in an accent incomprehensible to a modern Japanese who has not been taught it. The dances are considerably slower than any ritual motions anywhere in the West. The acting consists of highly stylized, symbolic gestures, unbelievably slow, whose significance is not apparent to the untutored. The costumes of stiff, elaborate brocade bear little relation to anything worn in the real world and the principal actors are masked. The stage is always the same — a small platform, like a boxing ring, with a resounding floor, approached from the dressing room by a bridge on which are three dwarf trees. The “backdrop” is a screen painted with a highly stylized pine. The chorus and orchestra sit on the stage and the chorus not only “choruses” but often takes over the actor’s lines, especially while he dances. Finally, all roles are played by men. --Kenneth Rexroth, Japanese No Plays, The New York Times, 1971, review of Twenty Plays of the No Theater, by Donald Keene, reprinted in The Elastic Retort (1973)

Recommended reading:
No or Noh plays at Reading Rat

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