‘After the Rain,’ The Newest Piece By Yara Arts Group

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“After the Rain” by Yara Arts Group is an original theatre piece based on short stories written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Japan’s best short story writer and most profound novelist of the Taisho period. During his short life (1892-1927, he committed suicide at the age of 35) Akutagawa wrote more than 150 short stories. His story “Rashomon” was the basis of Akira Kurosawa’s renowned film in 1950. “After the Rain” will be created, directed and designed by Watoku Ueno as a theatrical collage of Akutagawa’s short stories. It features original Japanese costumes, and folk songs as well as contemporary live music and projection images, dance and shadow puppets. Performances are April 4 to 20th in La MaMa’s First Floor Theater, 74A East Fourth Street, Manhattan.

After the Rain by Yara Arts Group, conceived and directed by Watoku Ueno
After the Rain by Yara Arts Group, conceived and directed by Watoku Ueno, adapts short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa to the stage using folk songs, contemporary live music, projection images, dance and shadow puppetry. Pictured: Robert Torigue in a scene from Rashomon. Photo by Makoto Takeuchi.

The production is interdisciplinary. Scenes are created through the interaction between actors and shadow puppets and include contemporary music and movement. Three stories by Akutagawa form the core of the production: “Rashomon,” “Magic,” and “Mandarins.” Although these stories take place in various times, places and contexts, the production weaves them into one man’s somewhat surrealistic journey, starting at Kyoto’s Rashomon Gate during a famine 800years ago. Against his own moral believes, a young unemployed Samurai is forced to become a robber. The second story, “Magic,” is set in the Taisho period (1912-1926). A man visits a magician to learn his craft to find out it can that only be used if no greed is involved. The last part is based on the story “Mandarin,” that takes place inside a train compartment. An old man, perhaps the same person as in the previous stories, is saved by a young country girl, who selflessly throws mandarins to boys waving to the train.

Director Watoku Ueno has assembled the script, as well as designed the set, lights and the shadow puppets. A founding member of Yara Arts Group, he has co-directed and designed most of Yara’s 18 productions and in 2006 directed Yara’s “Sundown.” He is an NEA/TCG award-winning designer. He is interested in exploring East-meets-West themes, both personally and as an artist. He is also fascinated by the Taisho period of Japanese history, when culture and revolution flowered together.

Founded in 1990, Yara Arts Group, a resident company of La MaMa, creates original pieces that explore timely issues rooted in the East through the diverse cultural perspectives of the group’s members. Yara artists are of Asian, African, Eastern and Western European ethnic origin. They bring together poetry, song, historical materials and scientific texts, primarily from the East, to form what one critic described as “extended meditation on an idea.” The company has created eight pieces based on materials from Eastern Europe including: “A Light from the East,” “Blind Sight,” “Yara’s Forest Song,” and “Swan.” The New York Times (D.J.R. Bruckner) called one of these pieces, “Waterfall/Reflections” developed with folk singer Nina Matvienko, “a theatrical enchantment given cohesion by choreographed movement and by music on a prodigal scale.” Since 1996 Yara has also created seven theater pieces with Buryat artists from Siberia. The Village Voice (Eva Yaa Asantewaa) called “Circle,” a World Music-Theater work with artists from the Buryat Republic at La MaMa in the spring of 2000, “a stunningly beautiful work (that) rushes at your senses, makes your heart pound, and shakes your feelings loose.” Yara has also created theatre pieces on Japanese material and last year created the first Kyrgyz-American collaborative project, “Janyl,” about a woman warrior from the Celestial Mountains.

The cast includes Robert Torigoe, Kazue Tani and Stephanie Silver (as of this writing).

“After the Rain” is made possible, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department for Cultural Affairs. For more information check Yara’s web site at www.brama.com/yara.

Performances are April 4 to 20 in the First Floor Theater of La MaMa E.T.C., 74A East Fourth Street, Manhattan. The production schedule is Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm and 8:00 pm. Tickets are $18. The box office number is (212) 475-7710. Online ticketing available at www.lamama.org.

Jonathan Slaff is a New York publicist in the specialty of international cultural events. Jonathan and his writers keep us ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.