In Theatre of Yugen’s entrancing and enchanting “A Noh Christmas Carol,” it’s not Scrooge, but Sukurooji, who undergoes the dramatic transformation.
And the production presented by the experimental San Francisco troupe fulfills the promise of the company’s name: “Yugen,” according to program notes, roughly translates as profound, tranquil and mysterious, or as the company’s artistic director Nick Ishimaru says, “It describes the feeling you have when you see something beautiful and hear something profound.”
With a clever production team and skillful cast, Ishimaru has created an evocative version of Dickens’ tale based on a poetic 1993 adaptation, with some familiar dialogue, by Theatre of Yugen founder Yuriko Doi.
It’s not necessary to know the Japanese theater and dance forms noh, kyogen, kabuki or butoh used in the piece to enjoy the show about a miser who has a change of heart.
It takes place in Meiji-era Japan, the same time as Victorian England, where mean land owner Ebezo Sukurooji (a stunningly commanding Simone Bloch) is visited by his dead business partner Jakubei Mashima (spooky Steven Flores, in full-body white makeup, wielding a chain), and later, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come (masked Rachael Richman). Zoe Chien plays the men (including Scrooge’s clerk); Mikah Kavita plays the females (including the tenant Scrooge plans to evict).
They nicely execute the deliberate movement, speech and demeanor the classic Japanese forms demand, accompanied by mostly gentle acoustic music with flute, gongs and bells. At particularly dramatic moments, an assistant wearing black at the back of the stage hits wood blocks against the floor, accentuating the action with sound.
The simple and spare but elegant set by Josh McDermott includes a huge circle frame, suggesting a full moon, through which the spirit ghosts enter the material world, and little red flower-like balls hang from the ceiling.
Liz Brent’s historically and fantasy-inspired costumes are show-stoppers, particularly the fan-waving present-day ghost’s red-and-gold kimono and flower-garland crown, and the ghost of yet-to-come’s huge, light, billowing headdress that looks like a big jellyfish.
The Tiny Tim-equivalent character is a little puppet that, indeed, seems to be ailing.
Of course, all goes well by the conclusion of the compact (just over an hour) show as Sukurooji, like Scrooge, wishes “Merry Christmas to everybody! A happy new year to all the world,” on this calming, satisfying East-meets-West journey — a welcome respite from the holiday bustle.
A Noh Christmas Carol
Presented by Theatre of Yugen
Where: NOHspace, 2840 Mariposa St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays; closes Dec. 30
Tickets: $15 to $35