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A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, TWICE

Zing, laughter, fuss and froth

by Nobuko Tanaka

Theater director Sho Ryuzanji, 59, started his Rakujuku (loosely, “having-fun club”) in 1997 with the specific intention to involve non-theater professionals over the age of 45 in drama. The company now comprises 14 members — all women. For its 10th anniversary program, Ryuzanji’s troupe will tread the boards of the renowned Honda Theater in Tokyo’s contemporary-theater mecca of Shimokitazawa.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” as conjured up here, is based on a version of the Shakespeare’s original created in 1992 by leading director Hideki Noda. With local audiences in mind, Noda made his characters Japanese and turned the play into a love comedy that was set in the Establishment environs of a swanky restaurant.

Visiting these amateurs’ rehearsal before the company’s Honda Theater debut, the room was full of zing and laughter. For Tomoko Miyazawa, a 53-year-old cafe owner who started her “second life” as an actress and cafe proprietor after working for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, this will be her third performance. “In my previous life, I was rarely scolded by anyone, as I was a veteran in the office,” she said. “But now I am taking on a completely new challenge and I don’t mind if I am shouted at by the director!”

The only experienced actress on the cast list, 58-year-old Aya Meguro emphasized that although trained young actors have technique, each Rakujuku actress brings to the stage their own unique presence.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs May 3-6 at The Honda Theater, a 3-minute walk from Shimokitazawa Station on the Odakyu and Inokashira lines. Tickets are 3,000-3,500 yen yen. For info, visit www.ryuzanji.com

A regular visiting highlight for Japanese theater fans and students of English literature, the International Theatre Company London (ITCL), will also bring their own original production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to Tokyo, Kyoto and Sendai, and to more than 10 universities around Japan through the second half of May and early June.

Explaining his staging, ITCL director Paul Stebbings says: “It is the task of a director to make sense of this fabulous comic and poetic material, half-dream and half-nightmare. Man and woman still stare at each other across a dividing wall. We are still fools for love.”

So Stebbings decided to start the play with an extra scene from classical Greek drama of the fight between the (female) Amazons and the warlord Theseus’ (male) Greek army in an ancient battle of the sexes which segues into the Bard’s magical woods awash with the fuss and froth of romantic crisis.

ITCL’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs May 15 at Tokyo Seiryo Kaikan; May 16, Musashino Kokaido, Tokyo; May 17, Sendai Shimin Kaikan; and May 23, Kyoto Kyoiku Bunka Center. For info, visit www.stageplay.jp or call (03) 5469-2841 (attn: Ms. Watanabe).