There's a real feast for the senses going on at Here, where the Theatre of a Two-headed Calf is presenting its punk Kabuki version of Monzaemon Chikamatsu's 17th-century revenge play Drum of the Waves of Horikawa. A 12-feet-by-12-feet mat defines the central playing space (designed by Peter Ksander), cordoned off by plungers acting as stanchions and hung with decapitated brooms. On either side are two drum sets; there are also a DJ booth and a keyboard for composer Brendan Connelly, who spends a lot of time whacking a horseshoe with a spike and acts as an ironic and laid-back master of ceremonies. "The next break will be more of a party. Is my mother back?" he asks the audience as he announces the end of one of the short intermissions.
Winsome touches define the visual elements of director Brooke O'Harra's production, including the wonderful blend of traditional Japanese apparel and makeup with the leather, boots, and more-is-better war paint of 1970s punk (costume design by Emily Rebholz) and a great variety of practical and scenic lighting instruments (designed by Justin Townsend with assistance from Christopher Kuhl).
It's unfortunate, though, that while the eyes are delighted, the ears are beat into senselessness by the crashing eponymous noise generated, oddly enough, by two Ph.D. candidates (Ian Antonio and Russell Greenberg on drums). Maybe it's my 40-year-old ears that don't have tolerance for the conceit of using punk mannerisms to tell an old tale of the dishonor of infidelity. It's not that I don't get the idea that punk thrashing and shouting could be just as stylized and ritualized as the grimaces and contortions of traditional Kabuki performance. It's more that I couldn't connect to a story whose emotional core was buried under layers of pretentiousness posing as intellectual theatricality.
Presented by the Theatre of the Two-headed Calf and Here Arts Center
at Here Arts Center, 145 Sixth Ave., NYC.
Oct. 27-Nov. 17. Thu.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.
(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com or www.here.org.