‘Poe-lighted’ society takes center stage at Theatre of Yugen

Ariella Cooley and Steven Flores perform a scene based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe in "Puppets & Poe," debuting this Oct. 3. Photo courtesy of Theatre of Yugen

As harvest festivals and Oktoberfests simmer down the summer-like autumn weather turns chilly. As autumn pushes towards winter, whispers of the gothic and some of the macabre hit the air. Most people would agree, next to Washington Irving, Edgar Allen Poe is the American writer that embodies the season of fall and Halloween. The Bay Area’s Theatre Yugen is eager to spotlight its interpretation of some of Poe’s work in its upcoming presentation called “Puppets and Poe, Devised Defiance” premiering this Oct. 3.
“Our goal was not to create something ‘Japanese’ in make or look, said Theatre of Yugen creative director Nick Ishimaru. But to create something that resonated with the individual members of the cast through a completely group-oriented process.”
Theatre of Yugen, founded more than 40 years ago, seeks to preserve and share with audiences the aspects of classic Japanese theatrical traditions. Some of these are little-known to the West. Concepts, approaches and forms to theatre like “Kyogen” and “Noh” (which is part of a Japanese word which means skill or talent) and some familiar to Western audiences like the word “Kabuki” are part of what Ishimaru and the theatre group seek to bring and highlight to audiences throughout the Bay Area.
Renowned for its use of Japanese traditional theatre in interpreting familiar classics like the works of Euripides or like Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” Theatre of Yugen is always working at being innovative.  Theatre of Yugen’s unique approach has continued to instill thought-provoking dimensions in all of its productions. The word ‘Yugen’ translates in English as deep and other worldly.
Even though Ishimaru says he and the group were not aiming for “something Japanese” interestingly, Poe’s work had a very profound impact upon Japan. After Poe’s death, many of his writings were translated into Japanese.
 Writer Satō Haruo utilized the work of Poe in his short stories and novels as University of Pittsburgh scholar Charles Exley explained in an essay ‘The Crypt in The City: Satō Haruo’s Monument to Edgar Allen Poe.’ “Haruo himself recreates Poe’s mood and writing style,” noted Exley in his essay published in the Japan Review back in 2010.
Considered by Exley as “one of the great literary minds of the 20th Century, Haruo was not the only writer/poet inspired and influenced in Japan by Poe’s work. If Poe were alive today, he no doubt would be amazed at how much his work influenced the world since his 19th Century lifetime.
Yet as ‘Puppets and Poe’ director Shannon Davis points out. “Edgar Allan Poe’s universal themes of loneliness, death, and love are well known to every human who’s ever lived. Who among us hasn’t felt the icy cold touch of death? Who hasn’t loved someone or something so deeply it hurts? Who has never once felt the pains of loneliness? Sure, his short stories have terrified audiences for over 100 years, but the true terror?”
Davis explained further. “Poe’s deeply irreverent humor, political hostility, and human horror provide an opportunity for a nuanced, varied theatrical presentation that easily sways from camp to terror.”
This aspect fits well with Theatre of Yugen’s mission and outlook as Davis noted further. “Although many of our productions have featured some kind of Japanese aesthetic, the true grounding of our work is in the experimental physical theatre that gripped the minds of theatrical luminaries from the 1970’s like Jerzy Grotowski, Eugenio Barba, and Robert Wilson.”
Theatre of Yugen’s founder Yuriko Doi was and is still an artistic pioneer. Certainly, a creative luminary in her own right, Doi pushes the boundaries of physical theatre by utilizing traditional Japanese theatrical skills to experimentation.
The SF Bay Area’s Theatre of Yugen’s production of Edgar Allen Poe classic literature will be performed beginning this Oct. 3 to Nov. 2, 2019
“Through this mode of physical expression, added Davis we seek to evoke ‘yugen,’ that Japanese term which describes internal feeling when experiencing a profound, subtle elegance.” Explaining further she said. “It is a feeling tinged with both satisfaction and nostalgia and is sometimes described as the beauty of human suffering.”
“This search, to evoke yugen through a portrayal of sublime physical control, is the true core of our work, said Davis.  Theatre of Yugen has worked in numerous genres and with a plethora of master artists across the globe in service of this goal.” “In this way, says Davis Puppets & Poe draws from the same source – well trained performers using their whole bodies to create moments that evoke a dark profundity.
Yugen as a concept aligns perfectly with the works of Edgar Allan Poe, which often merge the joy and fulfillment of love with the nostalgia and tragedy of death.  His works are a perfect illustration of the beauty of human suffering.”
Familiar Poe poems and writings will be featured such as ‘The Tell-Tale Heart,’ ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ and of course, ‘The Raven’ among others.
‘Puppets & Poe – Devised Deviance’ opens on Oct. 3 and continues until Nov. 2 for tickets and more information visit the Theatre of Yugen web site.