Katsura Sunshine’s Rakugo
A premier practitioner of traditional Japanese storytelling brings the artform to NYC in this uneven presentation where two lovely tales are showcased.
Two lovely and brilliantly performed stories are the highlights of Katsura Sunshine’s Rakugo, but their impact is diluted by an abundance of routine standup comedy-style banter. Rakugo is an artform of traditional Japanese storytelling that first appeared in the 18th century. It’s a monologue having at least two characters, in either a comical or sentimental mode with a formalized structure, characterized by a jolting conclusion.
Katsura Sunshine is the stage name of this charismatic 49-year-old Toronto-born performer who relocated to Japan and apprenticed to a Rakugo master. Mr. Sunshine eventually became a notable practitioner in his own right and has the distinction of being a Westerner. Sunshine is affable, animated and possessed of a pleasing fast-paced vocal delivery that demonstrates comic timing and dramatic heft with a Canadian lilt. This vocal expressiveness combined with his shock of jagged blonde hair, striking facial features that he contorts into a gallery of expressions, enables him to command the stage. Wearing a kimono, kneeling at a small table and handling the hallowed props of a fan and a hand cloth, he evokes the genre’s essence with assured authenticity.
That genuine spirit is complemented by scenic designer Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams’ sensational setting that conjures up the atmospheric vista of a Japanese locale. Exotic lanterns hang above the stage which has a small raised platform. On it is that small wooden table covered with a red cloth, some native objects and nearby are two candles in long vintage holders. Behind it is a gold-paneled brick-accented segmented screen which changes colors due to Yuki Nakase Link’s entrancing lighting design that veers from simple brightness to complex variations. Though he is relatively stationary, Sunshine is credited as the show’s director, and he has achieved theatricality and visual zest.
A repertoire of eight tantalizing classic stories are listed on Sunshine’s website and these are enacted in rotation throughout this engagement. Sunshine did just two at the performance under review. They were the comic “Chiritotechin Rotten Tofu” about an odious dinner guest and “Reincarnation,” a ravishing exploration of life after death. Oh, if this had been the finale, we would walk out of Katsura Sunshine’s Rakugo awestruck. Instead, it was performed very early on, robbing it of its dramatic majesty.
The 85-minute show’s first 30 minutes are taken up with a rambling segment chronicling Sunshine’s life, the characteristics of Rakugo and mundane observations. It’s a saggy preamble and such strained tangential jocularity dominates, rather than there being a welcome program of more actual Rakugo. Still, Katsura Sunshine’s Rakugo has its charms and showcases Sunshine’s sporadic magnificence.
Katsura Sunshine’s Rakugo (return engagement Saturdays through December 23, 2023)
New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.Telecharge.com
For more information, visit http://www.rakugo.lol
Running time: 85 minutes without an intermission
Darryl, thank you so much for this positive review – it is an honour.
One very small point. As I mentioned on stage and is explained in the program, the prelude is every bit as much a part of the traditional Rakugo performance as the story itself. So much so that sometimes performers skip the story altogether and end their performance with a series of anecdotes.
This might not change your mind about it being mundane and strained, but you can’t call just part of the performance “actual Rakugo”, as every second of my performance was indeed “actual Rakugo”.
Small point – and thank you so much again! Maybe come back for the ghost story in November as it is one seriously long story with very little preamble!
Ah! Point taken and I am more enlightened. Perhaps in November. Best wishes for a great run!
Thanks for responding! You are welcome of course any time!!!!!
And thank you for your best wishes – it has been a long journey getting to off-Broadway as you can imagine, and am now having the time of my life!!!
Keep in touch!