Next week, Tokyo audiences will have a rare chance to sample contemporary theater from Iraq, as one of the Middle East’s most prominent directors, 56-year-old Salah Al-Kassab, presents his play “Dream in Baghdad,” performed by five Iraqi actors. The play also tours Sendai and Sapporo.
Recalling the first visit of an Iraqi theater group in 2004, when the Al-Murwass Group Folklore and Modern Arts presented a two-act play at the cozy Tiny Alice Theater in Shinjuku, Hiroko Nishimura, owner of the theater, described it as “an encounter with a completely unknown world.”
This year, with Al-Kassab’s “Dream in Baghdad,” expectations are running very high: The Iraqi director is renowned for what he calls “scenographic theater,” in which he makes extensive use of projections, mime and dance to tell his stories, rather than relying on words and straight acting. As a result, Nishimura believes that any potential language problems should be overcome, allowing audiences to fully revel in Al-Kassab’s extraordinary imagination as he relates an Iraqi fable about a group of ordinary people gathered in a small shabby house and arguing about repairing the roof. A postperformance discussion is also scheduled.
“Dreams in Baghdad” runs Jan. 15-16 at Theater Zoo in Sapporo (tel.  551-0909); Jan. 19-21 at Asahi Artsquare (tel.  3384-7307), a 5-minute walk from Asakusa Station on the Ginza Subway Line; and Jan. 26-28 at Sendai Engeki Kobo 10-Box in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture (tel.  782-7510).
Japan’s leading contemporary dramatist, 51-year-old Hideki Noda, is currently midway through a near-unprecedented two-month run with his new play, “Rope,” at Theatre Cocoon in Shibuya. Here, Noda delivers a strong antiwar message very straightforwardly as he examines the contradiction between murder in civil society and slaughter in war.
Noda has created a ring on the stage, allowing him to depict the shady, fixed violence of professional wrestling. Scenes of this world gradually segue to a battlefield in Vietnam, where audiences see a disastrous scene of war in the name of democracy.
It might also be interpreted as a story for another people currently involved in another “war” in the name of “democracy” in the Middle East.
“Rope” runs till Jan. 31 at Theatre Cocoon (tel.  3477-9999), an 8-minute walk from JR Shibuya Station.
For more information, visit www.bunkamura.co.jp
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