New York-based experimental playwright Chiori Miyagawa admittedly was hesitant at first about taking on noh, the ancient art form from her native country, Japan.
“It was a sacred thing. It felt like I was going to write a new Shakespeare play; I just couldn’t do it,” says Miyagawa, describing how she later had a change of heart regarding the years-in-the-making project that culminates this week in the world premiere of “This Lingering Life,” a Theatre of Yugen presentation onstage at Z Space in San Francisco.
“The interest in noh is the extreme human emotion, the going back and forth of the human spirit,” Miyagawa says. “It’s universal, it’s very Greek tragedy and very accessible in an exaggerated, theatrical way.”
Yet Miyagawa points out that her work isn’t noh, and doesn’t follow its rigid structure. The 28-character, time-and-space-traveling epic is a hybrid, inspired by nine noh plays from the 14th century and featuring elements from five categories that comprise noh.
Her revered partner and director on the production is Jubilith Moore, artistic director of Theatre of Yugen.
“I credit her for taking the risk to do something very different and making it happen,” says Miyagawa, who describes their relationship as “downright bizarre.”
The playwright explains: “Jubilith is a white woman from upstate New York who is a traditionally trained noh performer. I was born in Japan but had never even seen noh theater until about 10 years ago when I was invited to visit an American noh theater company based in Japan.”
The process of creating “This Lingering Life” has been even more incredible, among the most satisfying experiences of her career, adds Miyagawa, a playwright in residence at Bard College who has been with the school since 1999.
She also points to the continued dedication of the crew and cast: “They really are no longer acting my words. They just have it,” adding that a few even have quit their day jobs in order to participate.
Prospective theatergoers needn’t fear the unfamiliar, adds Miyagawa, who is planning to help audiences by using a technique she saw a colleague employ at a New York theater workshop on abstract movement based on the biography of Edgar Allen Poe.
“It was wonderful; the understood everything,” she says.
IF YOU GO
This Lingering Life
Presented by Theatre of Yugen
Where: Z Space, 450 Florida St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. today, Wednesday and June 12, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sunday; closes June 14
Tickets: $15 to $50
Contact: (415) 626-0453, www.theatreofyugen.org