The Hunting Gun
Adapted from the 1947 classic Japanese novella, this is a tour de force for a great actress and Japanese film star Miki Nakatani, winner of six Japanese Academy Awards, fits the bill.
As adapted by Serge Lamothe from the 1947 classic Japanese novella by Yasushi Inoue, The Hunting Gun in its United States premiere, comprised of three letters in monologue form, is a tour de force for a great actress, and Japanese film star Miki Nakatani fits the bill. Directed by the Canadian François Girard (usually working in opera in New York City) who has worked with Nakatani in film, the evening is an exquisite depiction of an affair and how it affects three very different women.
Not for everyone, this minimalistic theatrical event is performed entirely in Japanese with English language supertitles above the stage so that for non-Japanese speakers it requires reading of the text throughout. More’s the pity as Nakatani is a very expressive actress (having won six Japanese Academy Awards) and one doesn’t want to miss a moment of her performance.
Although Nakatani is the only speaker portraying three separate women (the mistress, the wife and the mistress’ daughter by her former husband), the recipient of these letters, a silent Mikhail Baryshnikov is on stage throughout cleaning the eponymous gun of the title. But unlike Chekhov’s ubiquitous gun, this gun never gets used, at least during the course of the play.
While Baryshnikov as hunter Josuke Misugi cleans his rifle from a high perch behind a scrim, Nakatani as 20-year-old Shoko (dresed as a school girl, her hair in pigtails) recites the first letter. Dressed as a student, she tells Josuke that she read her mother’s diary the day before she died discovering for the first time the 13 year affair between her mother Saiko and him. A cousin and friend to his wife, the affair started soon after Josuke had married the 20-year-old Midori. Though asked to burn the diary by her mother, Shoko decides to read it, hoping to find out why her mother divorced the father she never knew. She finds that her mother was obsessed with her sin and vowed to commit suicide if Midori ever found out about the affair. Writing to Josuke, she reveals that Midori visited the ill Saiko on the day before her death, and was the first to arrive when she was dying. Finally, she tells Misugi that this letter is goodbye as she is moving back to her grandparents’ house in another city.
Unlike Shoko’s undemonstrative delivery as she strolls around a lily pond, Josuke’s wife Midori works herself up into a white hot rage. She writes her husband that she knew he was unfaithful from the beginning and that is why she was also unfaithful, getting the reputation of a loose woman. She seems to have been angriest that his mistress was her own cousin and friend. She finally tells Josuke that she wants a divorce and that she will make her terms; she has already chosen which houses of theirs she wants for her own. She plans to live without men in a house with women friends. As she gets angrier and angrier she stamps among the black stone garden making an equal noise to her feelings. She also approaches us from the back of the stage as she spews out bitterness and bile, her red dress a symbol of her emotions.
Removing the red dress she becomes Saiko who as she changes out of her white gown she dons her funeral kimono, equally white with all its layers and sashes. She says that this is her farewell in which she will reveal her true self, but instead she recounts their affair with Josuke and her guilt all of the last 13 years. However, she does not seem to regret anything except divorcing her husband when she finds he has fathered a child with another woman. She recalls their first night at the Atami Hotel and the 13 years of great happiness because of his love. She does feel that she is now “getting the deserved punishment of a woman who couldn’t stand the pain of loving and who sought the happiness of being loved.” When Midori had told her that she knew all along on the day before, Saiko decides to go through with her long-held vow.
Nakatani is so fine an actress that she is able to create three separate women within moments of each other with different personalities and varying emotions. Dressed differently she comports herself differently: as Shoko she is calm and collected; as Midori she is furious and raging; and as Saiko she is serene and tranquil. Even though we English language speakers do not understand a word she says, she is mesmerizing in both voice and emotion, transcending the language barrier. Playing three different ages, she is completely convincing as the 20-year-old Shoko, the 40-year-old Midori and the 47-year-old Saiko.
The design team aids greatly in creating the visuals for the three monologues. Costume designer Renée April has given Nakatani outfits which she wears one over the other and peels off to reveal the next one in order to play the three women: a white sweater and red skirt for Shoko, a bright red dress for Midori, and a white dress and slip for Saiko. The three environments are created by changing the flooring representing three elements: water, stone and wood. Daughter Shoko is seen walking in a lily pond; wife Midori walks in a rock garden of smooth black stones, and mistress Saiko is revealed indoors on a wooden deck. François Séguin is responsible for these basic and austere, very Japanese milieux. David Finn bathes the stage in different lighting for each of the three sequences helping to create the three locales. The minimal music by Alexander MacSween reminiscent to American ears of that of Philip Glass is both eerie and otherworldly.
Unfortunately, hidden behind a scrim that goes from opaque to transparent, Baryshnikov is too far from the audience and too obscured to judge his facial expressions or emotions as he listens to the women in his life declaim their final letters to him. We also do not know how he reacts to their letters. However, his enigmatic presence is felt throughout as he watches them as he continues to clean his gun. Will he use it once the story is over? We are given no clue when the lights fade on him at the end.
The Hunting Gun (through April 15, 2023)
Baryshnikov Arts Center
Jerome Robbins Theater, 450 W. 37th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.thehuntinggun.org
Running time: one hour and 50 minutes without an intermission
Leave a comment