Here’s a three-act play with a difference or three — or four, or more. For starters, “Performing Women” comprises three standalone plays, each about a different Ancient Greek tragic heroine, each under a different director and each linked not just by their common theme but also by a fourth director’s mini musical dramas in the interludes, stitching the work into one. It is also the latest installment in an imaginative international drama collaboration project fostered for the last 15 years by The Japan Foundation, a cultural-exchange organization with links to the Foreign Ministry.
Back in 1992, the first production under the project’s umbrella was Leow Puay Tin’s “Three Children,” codirected by the renowned Ong Keng Seng from Singapore and Krishen Jit from Malaysia and staged with a Japanese cast in Tokyo. Meanwhile, among the project’s several other successful past productions, the standout success was 1997’s “King Lear” directed by Ong, with its cast and others involved coming from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, China and Japan. After wowing Tokyo audiences, that toured several Asian and European countries to great reviews.
This time, the ever-changing format of the project’s stagings includes a shift West, with three original one-act plays each directed and performed in a different language. Ovlyakuli Khodjakuli from Uzbekistan, Mohammad Aghebati from Iran and Abhilash Pillai from India offer their takes on, respectively, the stories of Medea, who killed her son in revenge for her husband’s infidelity; Jocasta, who unknowingly married her son Oedipus; and Helen, whose abduction and imprisonment triggered the Trojan War.
In examining the contradictions inherent in these women’s tragic destinies, the dramatists’ stated intent is to try to portray universal questions as relevant today as 3,000 years ago.
When it premiered in January at the NDS Theater Festival in Delhi, the show was greeted with long, heartfelt applause. Now, for its Japan debut at Theater Cocoon in Shibuya, the fourth director, Anuradha Kapur, again takes charge of the two interlude links, on which Japanese musicians Kazuki Kunihiro and Reki Shibata perform Kunihiro’s imaginative music and songs.
How these dramatists from such varied cultural background will meld the three women’s fatal tragedies into a whole, and reinterpret them for our world, is certainly an exciting and intriguing prospect — as indeed is the thought of what form the next work from this questing international collaboration project will take.
“Performing Women” runs Oct. 6-8 at Theater Cocoon, an 8-min. walk from JR Shibuya Station. Tickets ¥3,500-¥6,500. For more details, call Bunkamura directly at (03) 3477-3244, or visit www.bunkamura.co.jp.