Asian Theatre Journal, vol. 17, no. 1 (2000)

Editor’s Note
Samuel L. Leiter, p. iii


Yoritomo’s Death: A Shin Kabuki Play by Mayama Seika
Translated and introduced by Brian Powell, p. 1

Kabuki, while being one of Japan’s three great classical theatre genres, has also benefited from dramatic works written especially for it by a variety of playwrights in the modern period. These are referred to as shin kabuki or “new kabuki.” Mayama Seika is one of the best known shin-kabuki playwrights, and many of the plays he wrote in the 1920s and 1930s are still performed today. He is noted for introducing dense dialogue into kabuki, but he was also a practical playwright who knew well the capabilities of the actors for whom he was writing.

Yoritomo’s Death focuses on the efforts of the shogun Yoriie (1182-1204) to learn the truth about how his father, the great general and first shogun Yoritomo, met his death. We the audience know, because we are told in Scene 1, and three other people close to Yoriie know, but Yoriie himself does not know. For him discovering the truth becomes an obsession, and his inability to force or persuade the three to tell him proves to him that his political and military power, clearly demonstrated at the beginning of Scene 2, is illusory. And because he has chosen to define himself as an individual by his acquisition of this piece of knowledge, it also destroys him as a person.

Brian Powell has written widely on various aspects of modern Japanese theatre and is the author of a monograph on Mayama Seika. He teaches Japanese theatre and literature at Oxford University.

Hope: A Modern Chinese Play by Yang Qian
Translated by Mary Ann O’Donnell, p. 34

The municipal government of Shenzhen, China does not sponsor a huaju (modern spoken drama) troupe. At the same time, the Ministry of Propaganda still controls cultural production. Consequently, Shenzhen thespians must creatively manipulate the state apparatus in order to secure approval (pizhun) for dramatic productions. But, as the playwright’s introduction to Xiwang (Hope, 1997) indicates, the lack of institutional support for huaju has also produced a unique opportunity not only to redefine the relationship between artistic production and the Chinese state but also to push the envelope of acceptable plots, style, and form. A journalist by profession, Yang Qian came to the attention of the huaju public when the National Experimental Theatre of China staged his play Guyi Shanghai (Intentional Injury, 1994). In 1997, he registered Ling Ri Yue (Zero Sun Moon)–the first experimental theatre troupe in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone–as a social club, a gesture that finessed and restructured the administrative organization of huaju in Shenzhen.

Mary Ann O’Donnell conducted fieldwork in Shenzhen from September 1995 through October 1998 and received her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Rice University in 1999. Her theatrical collaboration with Yang Qian began in 1997 when she performed in Lishi yu Diaosu (History and Sculpture, 1997) and Hope. In addition, Yang and O’Donnell have co-written a two-act play, Qilu (Forked Road), which was published in China’s leading theatre journal, Juben Yuekan (Scripts, May 1999).


Ganjirô III and Chikamatsu’s “Lost” Kabuki Masterpiece
Laurence Kominz, p. 51

Nakamura Ganjirô III, one of kabuki’s outstanding contemporary actors, has made it one of his life’s goals to reintroduce the long abandoned kabuki plays of Japan’s great playwright, Chikamatsu Monzaemon. Chikamatsu is best known for his puppet plays, many of which later became kabuki classics, but the plays he wrote solely for kabuki are not widely known. Reviving such “lost” plays is fraught with difficulties that assume a particular interest because the revival process is undertaken within a highly conventionalized theatre genre. A classical actor-director like Ganjirô faces the problem not only of how to bring such nearly three-hundred-year-old plays back in a semblance of their original form but how to make them viable for modern audiences. Laurence Kominz’s essay on Ganjirô’s recent revival of 1702’s Keisei Mibu Dainenbutsu provides fascinating insights into the process. Kominz was present at rehearsals and was with the production at its first performances. He discusses not only the production process but the business and artistic environment in which Ganjirô’s noble experiments are trying to take root.

Laurence Kominz is professor of Japanese language and literature at Portland State University. He is ATJ‘s area editor for Japan, and is the author of Avatars of Vengeance: Japanese Drama and the Soga Literary Tradition (1995) and The Stars Who Created Kabuki: Their Lives, Loves and Legacy (1997).

Male Dan: The Paradox of Sex, Acting, and Perception in Traditional Chinese Theatre
Min Tian, p. 78

The art of male dan–specialists in female roles–is one of the most important issues in traditional Chinese theatre, especially in jingju (Beijing or Peking opera). In this article, Min Tian considers the problem from a combined gender-sociocultural-historical perspective. Tian traces the convention’s historical development, examines its contemporary status, and deals with such issues as the dynamics of sex and the paradox of acting, which are central to the art of the male dan. Not only does he explore modern perceptions of the art of female impersonation with respect to the tradition of the male dan, but he also discusses similar traditions, most notably that of the classical Japanese theatre.

Min Tian holds a doctorate from China’s Central Academy of Drama and has taught there as an associate professor. He recently completed his dissertation on intercultural theatre at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Aside from many articles published in Chinese academic journals, he has also published in Asian Theatre Journal, Theatre Symposium, New Theatre Quarterly, and Comparative Drama.

Naming a Theatre in Tamil Nadu: Perspectives of Performers, Critics, and Researchers
Hanne M. de Bruin, p. 98

Perhaps it is true that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but a lot of people might be upset if they suddenly had to call a rose by something less familiar. How they might feel may be measured by the emotional controversies that continue to swirl around the appropriate names for certain forms of Asian theatre. ATJ has more than once discussed the problem with regard to traditional Chinese theatre. In the present article, Hanne M. de Bruin examines the issues surrounding the name for the folk theatre of Tamil Nadu, India, usually known as terrukuttu (one of several possible spellings), but which some now prefer to call kattaikuttu. De Bruin’s position as a theatre researcher not only gives her firsthand insights based on her own participation in the debate but, as she notes, also clouds the issues for those involved because of her status as a foreign scholar. In her essay, De Bruin closely examines the socio-political ramifications of the naming problem.

Hanne M. de Bruin has published widely on Indian and Southeast Asian theatre. She is a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden, the Netherlands.


Karen Brazell, ed., Traditional Japanese Theater: An Anthology of Plays, reviewed by Marleigh Grayer Ryan, p. 123

A. Kimi Coaldrake, Women’s Gidayû and the Japanese Theatre Tradition, reviewed by Patricia Pringle, p. 127

Jennifer Robertson, Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan, reviewed by Barbara E. Thornbury, p. 129

Takashi Sasayama, J. R. Mulryne, and Margaret Shewring, Shakespeare and the Japanese Stage, reviewed by Leonard C. Pronko, p. 131

Yan Haiping, ed., Theater and Society: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Drama, and Dave Williams, ed., The Chinese Other 1850-1925: An Anthology of Plays, reviewed by Claire Conceison, p. 135

L. S. Rajagopalan, Women’s Role in Kudiyattam, reviewed by Diane Daugherty, p. 138