Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Lady Aoi—Imago Theatre—SE Portland


This mysterious story is of Japanese origin by Yukio Mishima and translated by Donald Keene.  It is directed and scenic/sound designed by Jerry Mouawad (co-sound designer, Kyle Delamarter) and produced by Carol Triffle (Imago’s Founders).  Music Composers are Greg Ives, John Berendzen and Blade Rogers (also onstage percussionist), Lights by Jeff Forbes and Costumes by Sarah Mansfield.  It is playing at their space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off Burnside), through March 27th.  It is street parking, so plan your time accordingly.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-231-9581.

This is not unlike the “Grudge” horror films from Japan, where a vengeful ghost seeks revenge on the living.  And it does have a dose of “Fatal Attraction” thrown in for good measure.  Revenge is the mainstay of Shakespeare’s plays, as were many plays of that era.  And, along with Revenge, its sisters, Envy, Jealousy and Vanity, also reside.  After all, where would the plots of Hamlet, Macbeth or Othello, his Histories and even his Comedies, Tempest and …Dream et. al., be without those elements.  It is “a dish best served cold” propelled by icy blood from a heart so bold.

This is a tale woven from the nether regions of the mind…an alternate universe(s), perhaps…dimensions of sight and sound, where nothing is real and everything is possible.  It is as close as one’s snapshots of relevant memories and as far away as misty, musty dreams of what could-have-been.  This is, in my opinion, the style…setting…flavor of the piece we saw the other night.  I, and my artistic friend, Deanna, were both somewhat speechless after the performance, choosing to revel in our own thoughts than opining clumsy words about it, as if that might break its spell.

If you need a plot to hang your hat on, then it takes place in a hospital, where a young woman, Lady Aoi (Gwendolyn Duffy), seemingly lies in a semi-comatose state.  She is evidently there to be treated for some unspecified sexual repression or anxiety.  The Nurse (Emily Welch) explains the sanatorium is cut off from the outside world so that patients can heal without intrusion (of reality?).  But the Lady’s  husband, Hikaru (Matt DiBiasio), seems to feel responsible for her condition.

But there is also another nightly visitor that comes calling, Mrs. Yasuko Rokujo (Jeannie Rogers), who seems to have had a past relationship with the husband.  Images/memories of a lake and a sailboat (puppeteers, Kay Webster and Fiona Toland) appear to overpower this current situation at times.  Were they lovers?  Is she haunting/tormenting them as a way of getting some sort of retribution?  Or, are we inside the paranoid mind of the patient, as she conjures up recurring, haunting images of a tortured past, imagined or real, that has kept her confined physically and/or mentally?  It’s up to you to decide.

The mind is a labyrinth of possibilities and each one different in how it responds to stimuli.  In this production, the stimuli is not just the story, but the beats and rhythm within it; the music (Rogers) seems to direct or confound the characters; the set just shows us a snapshot of a physical place, missing any unnecessary elements to the immediate vision, like memories or dreams do; lighting that flows from one “reality” to another, depending on the circumstances; and the modulation of the voices, changing in a similar way.  All totaled, it is an organic, visceral experience.

Mouawad’s plays are always stimulating and invade the senses in very unique ways.  I guarantee you will not walk away from one of his productions, this one especially, without being touched in some way.  His actors also seem to be on the same page.  They all move voices and bodies to a secret rhythm.  The environment, likewise, has a life of its own, pulsating with primal chants and images from deep within.  And, perhaps oddly, there is something vaguely recognizable in the ebb and flow of the piece, as if it has always been waiting for us but just out of reach.  “…and the beat goes on….”

I recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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