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Archive for the ‘Plays’ Category

I wanted to read a Yukio Mishima book today, and I decided to read his ‘Five Modern Nō Plays‘.

In this book, Mishima has taken five classic Nō plays and put them in a contemporary setting, and adapted and reshaped them for a modern audience. ‘Sotoba Komachi‘ is inspired by the legend of Ono no Komachi, a real poet and one of Japan’s foremost women poets, who lived during the Heian era, around a thousand years back. ‘The Damask Drum‘ is about an old janitor who loves a beautiful young woman and sends her a love letter everyday. This woman is quiet for most of the play, but towards the end, she speaks and reveals unsuspected hidden depths which amazes us. As they say, still waters run deep. ‘Kantan‘ is about a young man who meets his governess after many years and the fascinating things that happen after that. The first half of the play was wonderful, then there was a dreamy surreal part which was a commentary on politics and world happenings which was okay but not really my favourite, and then the play ended the way it started in a beautiful way. ‘The Lady Aoi‘ is a beautiful love story filled with some psychological horror and fantasy. It had some of my favourite passages from the book, and it was probably my favourite play from the book. ‘Hanjo‘ is a triangle love story, in which a older woman and a young man love a young woman. It must have been unusual for the times in which Mishima wrote it, and it is beautiful.

This book has a beautiful introduction by Donald Keene, that lover and translator of Japanese literature, who has also translated this collection.

I loved this collection of Nō plays by Mishima. Very entertaining and very fascinating. Mishima seems to have written other plays too and I want to read them now.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

From ‘Sotoba Komachi

Poet (teasing her) : “Oh! And tell me, old lady, what is your reason for living?”

Old Woman : “My reason? Don’t be ridiculous! Isn’t the very fact of existing a reason in itself? I’m not a horse that runs because it wants a carrot. Horses, anyway, run because that’s the way they’re made.”

From ‘Kantan

“It’s simple enough to become a hero. Any man can become one, provided he has no desires. You can get more power and profit through indifference than through greed. Just imagine – in times like these a mere stripling can take over the country, just because he acts indifferent and claims – apparently in sincerity – not to need money, women, or fame.”

From ‘The Lady Aoi

“The night is not like the day, it’s free. All things, people and inanimate objects alike, sleep. This wall, the chest of drawers, the window panes, the door – all of them are asleep. And while they sleep they’re full of cracks and crevices – it’s no problem to pass through them. When you pass through a wall not even the wall is aware of it. What do you suppose night is? Night is when all things are in harmony. By day light and shadow war, but with nightfall the night inside the house holds hands with the night outside the house. They are the same thing. The night air is party to the conspiracy. Hate and love, pain and joy : everything and anything join hands in the night air.”

From ‘Hanjo

“I have only known Hanako since she lost her mind. That has made her supremely beautiful. The commonplace dreams she had when she was sane have now been completely purified and have become precious, strange jewels that lie beyond your comprehension.”

From ‘The Lady Aoi

Mrs. Rokujō : “What’s the matter? You’re not saying a word.”

Hikaru (gently) : “There’s no need to say anything.”

Mrs. Rokujō : “It’s medicine to me to hear you talk that way, a medicine that cures all my wounds in an instant, a marvelous medicine. But I know the kind of person you are – you give the medicine first and only afterward inflict the wound. You never do it the other way. First the medicine, after the medicine the wound, and after the wound no more medicine… I understand well enough. I’m already an old woman. Once I get wounded I won’t recover quickly like a girl. I tremble with fright whenever you say anything affectionate. I wonder what horrible wound awaits me after so efficacious a medicine. Of late, the less affectionate you talk the happier it makes me.”

Hikaru : “You seem convinced that you’re going to suffer.”

Mrs. Rokujō : “Pain comes, as night follows the day, sooner or later.”

Hikaru : “I can’t believe I have the strength to cause anybody pain.”

Mrs. Rokujō : “That’s because you’re young. One of these days you will wake up in the morning with nothing on your mind, and while you are out walking with your dog, perhaps, you will suddenly become aware that dozens of women somewhere, unseen by you, are suffering, and you will understand that the very fact you are alive is in itself a cause of suffering to many women. Even though you can’t see them, they can see you, and it is useless for you to turn your eyes away, for you are as plainly visible as a castle that rises on a height over a city.”

Have you read this collection of plays by Mishima? What do you think about it?

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I have been into a deep reading slump for nearly a month. I tried getting back to reading, but my attention was scattered and I couldn’t focus. Today, I tried reading a play, and I’m happy to report that it finally worked. Hopefully I’m back 🙂

I discovered Marsha Norman’s ‘night, Mother in a literary anthology that I have. I read her potted biography at the beginning of the play and found it very fascinating. I finally got around to reading the play today.

Jessie’s mother is trying to take out a cupcake from the kitchen cabinet. She calls Jessie to ask her something. Jessie enters the room. Jessie seems to be cleaning up something elsewhere in the house. Jessie and her mother start talking. At one point Jessie asks her mother where her father’s gun was kept. Jessie’s mother tells her that it is in a box in the attic. Jessie goes and gets it. Her mother asks her why she needs the gun. Jessie tells her why. At this point, I have to stop and ponder on whether I should tell you why. I don’t want to spoil the surprise and so I won’t, and I will skirt around this. Her mother thinks that Jessie is joking, but when she realizes that Jessie is serious, she tries to talk Jessie out of it and uses every kind of stalling tactic to buy time. The rest of the play is a long conversation between Jessie and her mother. What Jessie is planning to do, and whether she succeeds in it or whether her mother succeeds in preventing her is told the rest of the story.

‘night, Mother is a play which grabs your attention from the first line of dialogue and never lets go till the end. The story is intense, the dialogue is crisp and sharp and amazing and asks all the big questions in beautiful everyday ways, and as the play hurtles towards its denouement, our heart starts beating harder. It is haunting and heartbreaking. I cried when I read the last page.

I loved ‘night, Mother”. It is a haunting book. I am so glad I discovered Marsha Norman. I haven’t heard of many women playwrights before. I haven’t read any before (except for a short 10-page play by Wendy Wasserstein). When we talk about 20th century playwrights after the Second World War, the typical names that are mentioned are Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter, Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, Arthur Miller – all men. Women playwrights seem to be rarer than rare birds. It is odd. The reason might be that there are not many women playwrights around, or they are there, but they are not getting enough visibility. I think it is probably a combination of both, but I also feel that it is more the first than the second. If we do a simple test, we can discover this. If we pick a contemporary poetry anthology, we’ll find that half the poets featured are women. But if we pick an anthology of plays, we’ll be lucky to see even one play by a woman playwright. I don’t know why things are the way they are. But I am very happy to discover that there are amazing women playwrights out there, and Marsha Norman is among them. ‘night, Mother is one of the great plays I’ve ever read. It won the Pulitzer when it first came out, was successfully performed in Broadway, and was adapted into a movie starring Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft. I hope to watch the movie sometime. I can’t wait to read more plays by Marsha Norman.

Have you read ‘night, Mother? What do you think about it? Have you read plays by women playwrights? Who are your favourites? Please give me some recommendations.

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I read this piece recently by Teresa Preston called ‘100 Must-Read Plays Not by Shakespeare’. It made me think about the plays I have read, seen performed and watched adaptations of. I love plays but I haven’t read a lot of them. I thought that I could list them down in a page. And then I could look at the list and feel bad about it. As Woody Allen’s character says in ‘Annie Hall‘ – “I feel that life is divided up into the horrible and the miserable. These are the two categories. The horrible would be like terminal cases. And blind people. And cripples. I don’t know how they get through life. And the miserable is everyone else. So, you should be thankful that you’re miserable. You’re very lucky to be miserable.” I knew that my list of plays was going to be short and it was going to make me feel miserable. Well, I am happy to be miserable. Here is my list of plays – plays I have read, seen performed and watched film / TV adaptations of.

Plays read

(1) The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
(2) Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
(3) A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
(4) Oedipus by Sophocles
(5) The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan
(6) A Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams
(7) And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
(8) The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie
(9) Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie
(10) The Robbers by Friedrich Schiller
(11) Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller
(12) Hayavadhana by Girish Karnad
(13) Nagamandala by Girish Karnad
(14) Tughlaq by Girish Karnad
(15) Muhammad bin Tughlaq by Cho Ramaswamy
(16) La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler
(17) Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
(18) The Homecoming by Harold Pinter
(19) She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith

Play performance watched

(1) A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Narrated / performed by my mom

(1) Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Film / TV Adaptations watched

(1) Gods of Carnage by Yasmina Reza
(2) Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire
(3) My Zinc Bed by David Hare
(4) Platonov by Anton Chekhov
(5) The Odd Couple by Neil Simon
(6) The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman
(7) The Petrified Forest by Robert E. Sherwood
(8) Proof by David Auburn
(9) Alfie by Bill Naughton
(10) Hamlet by William Shakespeare
(11) The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
(12) The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
(13) The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams
(14) Closer by Patrick Marber

I think in terms of quality the list is good, actually excellent. Not very diverse, but excellent still. In terms of quantity, bad, very bad. I am not much of a theatre goer and have never been. That is not going to change much. But I hope to read more plays and watch more film / TV adaptations and improve that number above, which stands at 35 right now.

Which are my favourite plays from the above? I loved all the film / TV adaptations except for Patrick Marber’s ‘Closer‘. That one, I didn’t like much, eventhough it had Julia Roberts in it. I loved the performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. It was, interestingly, performed by an Italian theatre company. ‘Twelfth Night’ was one of our family favourites – my mom used to narrate us the story / perform some of the scenes during dinner time or during weekends when I was a kid. She was a great storyteller. Those were magical times. My mom inspired me to read. She passed on her infectious love for literature to me. I miss her so much. Out of the plays I read, I liked all of them except for the last three. Harold Pinter’s ‘The Homecoming’ was powerful, but I didn’t like it much. Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘She Stoops to Conquer‘ was disappointing.

So, do you like reading plays? Do you like watching performances in the theatre? Which are your favourite plays?

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