Seeing What They Want to See

SOUTH BEND — An ancient world is crafted carefully and beautifully in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Rashomon,” playing Wednesday through Sunday in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium. Based on two short stories written in 1915 and 1921 by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, its most familiar incarnation is the 1950 film by Japanese master Akira Kurosawa. The play by Fay and Michael Kanin followed in 1959, with Rod Steiger as the Bandit and his then-wife Claire Bloom as the Wife. Set at the Rashomon Gate (the castle gate) at the entrance to the city of Kyoto about 1,000 years ago, it nevertheless carries a timeless truth, delivered by the Wigmaker (Kathleen Carnavan-Martin) who serves throughout as sort of chorus/conscience. “People see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear,” she says to a Woodcutter (Kyle Curtis) and a disillusioned Priest (Nathaniel Smith), understandably confused after listening to several versions of the same crime.

Rashomon at South Bend Civic TheatreThe basic story is the same. A famous Bandit (Scot Shepley) falls upon a Samuri (C.J. Nwokah) and his Wife (Emilija Nahas) traveling through the forest. The Wife is raped and her husband ends up dead, but was the rape really rape and just how did the husband die? The reenactments by the participants, plus an additional one by the Woodcutter, who was an observer, are presented from each one’s point of view, with help from the Stage Keeper (Seyhan Kilic). As in the classic Japanese theater, the Stage Keeper delivers all the sound effects from thunder to a crow to a baby, plays (or supplies) all the “supporting” roles including the Bride’s mother, a horse and a medium through whom the dead Samurai delivers his version, and distributes costumes pieces when required. No surprise, each version has a number of similar incidents yet each presents the teller as the wronged person. During several, there are vigorous duels between the Samuri and the Bandit, all well-staged by, I assume, director Jim Geisel as there is no program credit for a fight choreographer. Each of the actors delivers a strong performance, with Shepley’s Bandit truly frightening and Carnavan-Martin’s Wigmaker walking well the thin line between seer and psychotic. The costume design and construction by Jonnie Kilic and Lois Veen and the scenic and lighting design by David Chudzynski, plus the mood-inducing sound plot, work beautifully together. There is no credit given for makeup, but there should be. It is well done on each of the seven actors and adds much to the essence of time and place created by the imposing set and costuming. “Rashomon” is Geisel’s directorial debut for SBCT. He delivers a complete package which hopefully is the first of many.

For ticket information, see the SBCT link on this page. “Rashomon&quote; is performed without intermission.