Theater department stages ambitious production

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Tualatin High School senior Kent Edgerton, left, as the bandit, battles sophomore Braedon Kwiecien, as the samurai, during Tualatin High School's production of 'Roshomon' as senior Jamie Perry looks on in the role of the samurais wife. The production opens Nov. 7 in the Tualatin High School Auditorium. The Tualatin High School Theatre Department has made some brave choices in the past, but even by the standards of a group that performed adaptations of “Brave New World” and “Dead Man Walking,” this fall’s production of “Rashomon” is edgy. Not only is the subject matter particularly dark, but the production’s style is experimental — what director Stephen Jackson Clark calls “Kabuki fusion” to honor the story’s Japanese origins.

Clark noticed a trend in recent years of area theater companies integrating elements of Kabuki into productions as varied as “Oedipus Rex” and Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.” It made Clark realize that, like Shakespeare, Kabuki is a more than 400-year-old theatrical tradition.

“We’re going to act in a very naturalistic, modern Western high school kind of manner, but we’re going to use the costumes, scenery, music, makeup and so forth of the Kabuki traditions to try and bring this story to life,” Clark says. “It’s a challenging story, and I think it’s an important one for high school students because it talks about the subjective nature of our perceptions.”

“Rashomon” is perhaps best known as a 1950 Japanese film, but it has inspired several stage adaptations and is even used to explain a common psychological phenomenon among crime scene witnesses.

The script was adapted by British playwright Ivor Benjamin and is arguably among the darker versions of “Rashomon” available. Tualatin is not the first high school in Oregon to stage this production — Ashland High School Theatre Department presented this adaptation in 2005.

There are 32 students involved in “Rashomon” as performers or members of the technical crew. The entire play is double-cast with two actors for each role. The two casts will take turns performing on alternating nights. That way, Clark explains, as many students as possible have an opportunity to “experience the process.” This is, after all, educational theater.

Four sides to every story

The story of “Rashomon” revolves around a rape and a murder, and the subsequent differing accounts of four characters: the ghost of the slain samurai, the samurai’s wife, the perpetrator (identified as a bandit) and a woodcutter who witnessed everything.

The cast members say that even a few weeks into rehearsal, they have no idea which version of the story — if any — is true.

“Part of the beauty of the play is how well written it is, and what’s so amazing about it is they’re all written equally,” says Mitchell Lenneville, a sophomore who will be performing the role of the samurai in one of the casts. He’s excited about depicting each person’s testimony on-stage. “I actually get killed three times,” he said. “It’s fantastic.”

Kimmy Colisch, a senior who is playing the part of Masago, the samurai’s wife, admits her role has been particularly draining. She is, after all, portraying the victim of a rape that is depicted three times.

“You don’t see the rape, but you see the scene right after the rape, where (the bandit) is coming onto her again,” Colisch says. “What Mr. Clark has told me to do is to think of something else that’s really traumatic and apply it to this until the last days when I can really think, ‘This horrible, horrible thing is happening to me.’”

The young actors realize, too, how each character has his/her own motive for pushing a perspective. Junior Rebekah Veteto, who plays the woodcutter, explains: “My character is very lowly in society, and so she gets so she feels really important to be able to testify and to remember all these things.”

Connor McGrady, a sophomore who plays a member of the Rashomon militia, agrees.

“An underlying tone in my character is, I’ve always wanted to be in the spotlight and have the attention,” McGrady says. “So when I get the chance to testify, that’s my time to shine and really revel in the court. I’m the one who captured (the bandit), so I want to believe the story that he did the murders.”

A natural step

“Rashomon” is not a surprising choice of material for a theater department that last year used the “original practice” approach to present Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” Original practice is a demanding method that recreates Elizabethan performance traditions, allowing much less rehearsal time. Most actors receive only their own portions of the script and “cue lines,” keeping the cast on its toes. It’s a difficult method for even professional actors, but to Clark, the experiment is half the fun.

Clark, who has been at TuHS since it opened 20 years ago, says he continues to challenge students and student audiences thanks to the support he receives from the school and community.

“I believe that I couldn’t do a play like ‘Rashomon’ if it weren’t for the administration of Tualatin High School,” Clark says. “They’re supportive of the arts, and they’re supportive of the idea that art can provoke and in fact needs to provoke. If I didn’t have the backing of this administration, this would not be an option. I’m grateful for that.”

“Rashomon” performances are Nov. 7-10 and Nov. 14-17. Wednesday performances are at 3:30 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m. All performances take place in the Tualatin High School Auditorium. Tickets are $9 for adults, $7 for students and $5 for senior citizens and children 14 and younger.

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