Dallas Museum, Theater Present Reading of Noh Plays

Masks, music and a unique form of storytelling will move into the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) for the day on Saturday, Dec. 11, with the Undermain Theatre’s reading of Two Noh Plays by Yukio Mishima.

This is the second in a series of four readings this year, which marks the revival of a pre-existing partnership between the two artistic companies. The museum and the Undermain are working closely this season to develop readings that harmonize with the current exhibits.

The Two Noh Plays coincide with the DMA’s program of Japanese masks.

Executive Producer Bruce DuBose of the Undermain will be directing these readings of Westernized plays in the Japanese Noh tradition.

Noh Theater utilizes masks, minimal orchestration and traditional performances of the art last entire days. True performers and practitioners of it study it most of their lives.

“Noh in its traditional form would be nearly impossible to fully do in a Western culture,” DuBose said. “This reading is an homage to that form.”

The practice of Noh theater began in the 12th century, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that author Yukio Mishima translated and reworked some of the plays, allowing them to be more accessible to a modern audience.

Mishima is part of the reason that Dubose was attracted to the performance of Noh theater.

“He was quite the controversial figure,” DuBose said. “It was a good way to tackle both his work and Noh at once.”

Dubose, along with other artistic members of Undermain Theatre have crafted different elements to enrich the reading.

Artistic Director Katherine Owens has created Japanese brushstroke paintings to be projected behind the actors the as they are reading. DuBose has written simple orchestrations to complement the text.

“We work on these readings, doing research, having minimal rehearsals and use them as little laboratories to see what we might be interested in doing in fuller ways,” DuBose said.

The two plays being read on Saturday are, “Kantan” and “Sotoba Komachi.”

“Kantan” is the story of a young man seeking meaning for his life, who dreams that he is an emperor, but as the dream turns to nightmare he wakes up realizing the futility of ambition and the importance of living in the moment.

“Sotoba Komachi” tells the story of a 99-year-old bag lady, who is questioned by a drunken writer. When she reveals that she was once beautiful, he begins to see her as such.

In October, the Undermain kicked off their readings series with “The Golem,” which allowed them to explore the Jewish folklore of the anthropomorphic being made entirely of inanimate matter. There will be two more readings to follow the Noh plays, “Time in Kafka” by Len Jenkin and “Ilria” by Thomas Riccio.

“In a lot of ways readings can be really interesting,” DuBose said. “A lot of audiences like to hear readings because it really calls on your imagination to fill in the blanks, the negative space.”

“Two Noh Plays” goes beyond your average reading, with lighting, music and costume, this performance promises to spark your interest and hold your attention.

DMA members get in free, and tickets are just the price of admission into the museum. The only performance of this reading is at 3 p.m. on Saturday, December 11.