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    Woman Killer

    Once Nippon a time

    An 18th-century Japanese bunraku puppet play is the basis for "Woman Killer," a morality tale set in a slightly Japanified Brooklyn.


    "Woman Killer" is a strange but intriguing attempt to adapt a 1721 Japanese bunraku puppet play by the so-called "Shakespeare of Japan" to present-day Brooklyn. Actually, this version of Brooklyn is flecked with incongruous references to Japan — it's within subway distance of Tokyo, apparently, and there's a Buddhist temple on the mountain overlooking the borough.

    Written by: Chiori Myagawa.
    Directed by: Sonoko Kawahara.
    Based on "Onnagoroshi Abura no Jigoku" by: Chikamatsu Monzaemon.
    Cast: Hope Salas, Crispin Freeman, Kristin DiSpalto, Corinne Edgerly, Michael Braun, Kei Arita, Ronald Cohen, Shawn Randall, Paul H. Juhn.
    The play makes a plausible modern soap opera, with sex, drugs, money, careerism, loan sharks, prostitution, abortion and a bored housewife — though how many of these elements were in the original, we don't know. The action centers on Clay (Crispin Freeman), a tall, good-looking but amoral young man who lives life with equal parts passion and self-absorption and whose life seems to have its own techno soundtrack. His exploits with his cupiditous prostitute girlfriend and his neighborhood drug dealer have left him thousands of dollars in debt, but he counts on his wealthy parents to bail him out as they always have before. When that fails, he puts his sister up to a scheme to pretend she needs an abortion and he tries to turn the screws on the neighbors to help him. As his desperation grows, so does the chaos that he causes in everyone else's life.

    The play doesn't translate entirely comfortably to English, giving this version a slightly stilted and distant feeling, but it has its moments. The scattered intrusions of Japan into the middle of New York actually work well, giving the play a certain appealingly unpredictable quality. The best thing in the show is the performance of Kei Arita as the sister, who gets several chances to grab center stage with funny little mad moments and over-the-top tantrums, and she sells them all with gusto.

    SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

    Reader comments on Woman Killer:

  • [no subject]   from Raven, Mar 19, 2004

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