*“DoJoJi: The Man Inside the Bell” presented by the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre at the Clurman Theatre, located at 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan, celebrates its 36th season with an interesting takeoff of a thought provoking Japanese legend that has been told through several different versions of Japanese theatrical art forms. It’s a play about two ill-fated lovers.
Presented in minimalistic form, and as a new version of an old story, the director, Tisa Chang, called upon the performance styles of Bunraku, (a.k.a ningyo joruri) a form of Japanese puppet theatre, which is often used in lover suicide plays. Although, there was no suicide, the story line is about the lovers Kiyohime (Kiyo Takami) and Anchin (Toshiji Takeshima) whose love comes to an unfortunate end. Ms. Chang also employed other traditional art renditions such as Kyogen and Noh, which employ a mixture of mimicry and humor.
Written by Ernest Abuba in collaboration with and choreographed by Sachiyo Ito, the viewer finds themselves observing a Western form of Romeo and Juliet, Japanese style. DoJoJi is a temple where the young monk, Anchin, was heading when he encountered a violent snow storm.
The story begins in Wakayama, Japan, in the year 929 AD, where the audience finds our hero forced to seek shelter with the innkeeper Shoji, who has a beautiful daughter named Kiyohime. Knowing of his daughter’s loneliness the innkeeper seeks to push the young people together, despite the fact that the young man was on his way to the DoJoJi Temple to further his studies as a monk. Smitten by Kiyohime, Anchin was unable to contain his desire for her and the two become lovers. Anchin was just the person Kiyohime had prayed for in her desire to leave the confines of her father and forge for herself a better life.
Innocent, the blossoming of love consumed the young couple and before he knew it, Anchin had spent a year with Kiyohime. So enamored was he by her charms, time had stood still for him. When he finally awoke from her spell, Anchin realized he needed to get to the DoJoJi temple. His father had presented the temple with a new bell to replace the malfunctioning one. Anchin had been accompanying the bell but got separated when he got lost in the midst of the winter storm. Seeing she was about to be parted from her lover, Kiyohime implored Anchin to stay with her but eventually accepted his promise to return.
Having arrived a year late to the temple, the monks portrayed by Dinh Doan, Don Castro and John Baray, teased Anchin when he explained why he had been delayed.
The head monk attempted to convince the very confused Anchin that there was no such innkeeper or innkeeper’s daughter. Further stating that throughout their travels the monks had never come across the inn where Anchin insisted he had been. Nearly convinced he had dreamt his encounter, Anchin let years pass before seeking out the inn once again. And, indeed it was there that he found Kiyohime patiently awaiting his return.
Kiyohime was delighted to see the return of her lover convinced he had finally kept his promise to return to her. She was certain they would wed. However, Anchin reminded her they were not wed and that he could not break his religious vows. Instead of the marriage she envisioned, she was shocked to find that Anchin planned to return to the temple. Enraged, Kiyohime cursed Anchin, pursuing him to the river where he sought out a ferry boat to return to the DoJoJiTemple.
Hell has no fury like a woman scorned and the demon rose out of Kiyohime as she sought revenge against the man she loved. So intense was her passion for love and her hateful desire for revenge, Kiyohime’s mission to punish Anchin crossed all boundaries of space and time, and moved into the realm of dimension, spirit (Sachiyo Ito), and reincarnation, onward to the year 2013, where Kiyohime’s hatred for her lover had not abated. Could the modern monks do what the ancient monks could not and save Anchin from the demon terror Kiyohime had become? Would the sacred bell in modern times be able to protect Anchin? That is a question for the interested theatre-goer to find out. I recommend you do before the play ends, which will be on Sunday, June 9th.
For further information about the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre and “DoJoJi: The Man Inside the Bell”, visit www.panasianrep.org.