Concordia Takes on Bunraku in Winter Play
Published: Monday, February 10, 2014
Updated: Monday, February 10, 2014 09:02
For its first fully-fledged production of 2014, Concordia College Theatre is bringing something old to its new year. Bunraku, the 17th century style of Japanese puppet theater, is the driving force behind “The Long Christmas Ride Home,” the little-known play chosen for the college company’s winter work.
Staged around a family coming apart at the seams following Christmas dinner with the grandparents, “The Long Christmas Ride Home” replaces the live roles of the show’s three children with puppets. As a memory play, this story unfolds over time and over several Christmases and combines interesting elements in telling its story.
“There’s narration, puppet performers, characters, there are puppeteers that we see,” director David Wintersteen said of the show. “The puppeteers are right there.”
Puppet design and development has been a major building block for this show, with cast and crew members counting on each other for tweaks and performance assistance. Furthering the bond between cast and crew is the Suzuki Method of Actor Training, a performance regimen that Wintersteen encountered last summer in New York City.
“A guy named Tadashi Suzuki developed a performance style, and it’s become kind of a training regimen for actors,” Wintersteen said. “Suzuki himself, his grandfather was a Bunraku musician, so he kind of grew up seeing it, so his work is inspired by Japanese forms, as this play is.”
About 30 percent of rehearsal time has been spent in the Suzuki Method, which Wintersteen describes as intensely physical and psychologically provocative, calling on the performer to ponder long and hard on the art of stillness in acting.
Another influence on Wintersteen’s inspiration for this show is Suzuki’s mindset that acting is the art of stillness. More than one form of puppetry plays a role in this show, and shadow puppetry is a facet for this art.
“I think in a lot of performances that we see that a sword whipping around is action. What Suzuki would say is the performer holding the sword is the thing that is going to be more than the moving image. The still image is more powerful.”
Less is truly more with this show, both on and offstage, as only 11 performers round out the cast and only 80 seats are available for this six-show production. Visibility issues have reduced the number of seats in Concordia’s Lab Theatre, as the show cannot be successful if nobody can see what is happening. Wintersteen does not worry about this small seating capacity, as he believes giving people something relatively unknown and new to the senses is just as good as powerhouse production of “Grease” or “Oklahoma!”
“I hope we don’t turn people away, but it needs to have that smaller audience in order to make it work as a performance,” Wintersteen said.
“The Long Christmas Ride Home” is presented at 8 p.m. from Feb. 11 to 15 and at 2 p.m. on Feb. 16 in Concordia College’s Lab Theatre located in the Frances Frazier Comstock Theatre. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and students and are available at the box office and by phone at 218-299-3314.