Asahi Shimbun: First English rendition of ‘Chushingura' in North America performed in Portland
Author: Yu Miyaji
Posted: March 8, 2016

This article originally appeared in The Asahi Shimbun

PORTLAND, Oregon--"Chushingura," the classic Kabuki play about samurai loyalty and revenge, was performed for the first time in English in North America on the campus of Portland State University.

The roles were performed by students at the university, some of whom had little or no background in Japanese culture.

The standing-room only audience included scholar Donald Keene, who has translated the Kabuki play into English and is considered one of the foremost American authorities of Japanese literature. The play, which drew loud applause, was directed by Laurence Kominz, who studied under Keene, 93, and is now a professor of Japanese at Portland State. Kominz has also done research in Japan on Kabuki and "kyogen" comedic plays.

Its cast of about 110 included students majoring in theater and Japanese.

Chushingura was performed over eight days through March 5 and drew a total audience of about 3,000. It was the culmination of a three-year project undertaken by Kominz.

Many of the costumes, wigs and props were made by the students in the play.

Kominz said he wanted an American audience to gain an appreciation of the themes of loyalty, fidelity and self-sacrifice that feature in the classic play. The piece is based on an 18th century incident in which 47 ronin revenge the "seppuku" death of their feudal lord by slaying the official who triggered the incident.

The audience was clearly enraptured by the play and became silent during the seppuku scene, cheering when the ronin finally got their target.

The students who performed in the play said it was filled with themes that are relevant to this day.

Speaking about the significance of performing the play in North America, Keene said: "I think those Americans who saw it for the first time felt something. There are plenty of things that are different (from the original version), but I don’t want to say one is better than the other. It is the way of keeping the play alive."