Kiyama Theatre presents ‘A Scene With A Red Bird’ by leading Japanese Absurdist

Photo by Teruo Tsuruta

Kiyama Theatre Productions from Tokyo returns to NY from October 13 to 16, 2006 to perform “A Scene with A Red Bird” by Minoru Betsuyaku, the leading absurdist of Japan, for three performances only at the American Theater of Actors (ATA). “A Scene with A Red Bird” is a fable that depicts Japan’s civil society after World War II. The story centers around a blind woman and her younger brother, who decide to work off their parents’ debt to a mysterious traveler after their suicides, but are suppressed by a committee which has been formed to investigate the parents’ suicides. The woman’s devotion to the debt brings anxiety to the townspeople who hope for nothing but a quiet, undisturbed life. This makes her a “red bird” — a symbol of danger or a red light to a society that is unable to face its collective guilt.

Minoru Betsuyaku is a driving force behind postwar contemporary drama, and pioneered underground theater in Japan. Betsuyaku’s plays deal with man’s larger problems–his own being and his relationship to the cosmos. He has been regarded as a leading “playwright as thinker” and social critic since the late ’60s, when he won the Kishida Kunio award (equivalent to the American Tony) for “Matchiuri no shojo” and “Akai tori no iru fukei” in 1968. In his early career, Betsuyaku was much inspired by Ionesco and Beckett, to whom he is frequently compared. He is Japan’s leading playwright of the Theater of the Absurd. Betsuyaku’s works have been recognized for the brilliant structure of dialogue and unique sense of humor, which boldly criticize modern society.

“A Scene With A Red Bird” won the 13th annual Kishida award in 1967, when Betsuyaku was 29 years old. It was also presented in Seoul as part of a series of plays commemorating the Japan-Korea Friendship in 2005.

Other titles by Betsuyaku include “Soshite dare mo inakunatta” (“And Then There Were None”), which uses the plot and the characters of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” but sets the action in the world of Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” “The Little Match Girl,” based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, and “I’m Not Her,” a simple play posing a mating problem that is as likely to arise in Topeka as Tokyo. These have been translated by Robert N. Lawson of Washburn University in Topeka, KS but to-date, no plays by Betsuyaku have been produced in New York.

Kiyama (director) is the artistic name of Kiyoshi Kiyama, the Japanese producer who, as an enthusiastic fan of Betsuyaku, has produced his plays numerous times. Kiyama made his directing debut with the masterpiece “A Scene With A Red Bird” in March, 2004. This September, the production will have a four-week run at Shin-Kokuritsu Theater, Tokyo.

Kiyama Theatre Productions was founded in 1980, by Kiyoshi Kiyama and notable Japanese theater personages including Minoru Betsuyaku, Masakazu Yamazaki, Toshifumi Sueki and Noburo Nakamura. Its award-winning productions have toured internationally, including “Kanadehon Hamlet” by Harue Tsutsumi, (New York-La MaMa, 1997; London and Moscow), “Gen” by Keiji Nakazawa (1999 New York-Kaye Playhouse, Seoul, and Poland) and “Sentaku” by Harue Tsutsumi (2005, Kinpo and Seoul, both in Korea. The company’s mission is to protect the quality of traditional Japanese theater, and to search for the new realism in modern theater. The New York Times (Lawrence Van Gelder), reviewing “Gen” during its “brief but meritorious five-performance run” in 1999, called it an “engrossing, well-acted, touching and horrific plea for peace” which was “powerful and intriguing despite the absence of the production’s normal sets, costumes and props, stranded by snow in Chicago.”

“A Scene with a Red Bird” plays October 13 to October 15, 2006 at the American Theater of Actors (ATA), 314 West 54th Street (bet. 8 and 9 Ave.), NYC. Shows are Friday and Saturday at 8:00 PM, Sunday at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $30, students & seniors are $20 (ID required at the door). Purchase tickets before September 30, 2006 for $5 discount. For tickets please visit or call SMARTTIX / 212-868-4444 (English) or [email protected] / 347-228-4335 (Japanese). For group sales please visit or call [email protected] / 347-228-4335. Performed in Japanese with English simultaneous translation by headset.

Jonathan Slaff
Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.