The Blue Rocks
nytheatre.com review by Seth Duerr
August 15, 2004
It is interesting to consider that what accrues the most box office in the world is the Hollywood blockbuster film, involving on the whole little or no work from the audience’s imagination, and yet Shakespeare, Shaw, and Sophocles still seem to survive. There is however a danger in this: though every production of “classical” theater has the potential to serve as testament to the need for such work, all too often what happens in fact is that it turns the masses off to such stylization in terms of text, presentation, or ideals.
This paradox may well be seen in The Blue Rocks, Izumi Ashizawa’s ambitious new work, a “fusion of traditional Japanese Noh theatre and Greek tragedy with original music and masks”. Ashizawa’s self-ascribed desire to “represent old culture/religion vs. new culture/religion” is exactly what holds her production back from attaining fruition. Do not mistake, all the technical elements, the signatures of Noh theatre, are around to make this production seem what it has not yet become; the masks are present, the painstaking movement, the elaborate costumes (for some of the actors) are here. What is missing is the discipline and the drive.
There is an extremely talented group of actors working on this piece, all with spectacular credentials (many Yale alumni are involved on stage and off), and surely the most enjoyable part of the show is the music of Simos Papanas. Unfortunately, talent is not enough on its own.
The story is that of Jason, a hopeful for the throne, sent on an almost surely fatal journey (caused by famous “Blue Rocks” in his way) by the ruler who is trying to keep his kingdom. The program asks that we understand that Jason’s decision to betray the Blue Rocks as a means of getting to his journey’s end is the reason why later on Jason’s famous lover, Medea, will slaughter their children. The dilemma here is that while the program notes (written by Yale Classicist Gregory Francis Viggiano), are very detailed, what they describe never seems to take form on the stage. If Ashizawa is as concerned to “shed light on contemporary political and cultural conflicts” as the program says she is, then much work must be done to make this clear to the audience.
With discipline (something not easily gained this late in the game) Matthew Osborne’s Jason would be able to appear far more at ease physically, and the wonderful emotional life Kristen Hunter has created, as the Spirit of the Blue Rocks, would be far more resonant. As the Rocks themselves, Signe Grant and Taylor Krauss are to be congratulated, as they are a prime example of what effect this style can have at its best. Alas, they point up Ashizawa’s coming up short on the rest of the production.