Truth, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “the state of being the case: FACT (2) : the body of real things, events, and facts : ACTUALITY (3) often capitalized : a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality.”
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In modern court cases and disputes, the truth of the case is found through examination of witness testimony and evidence of the past crime or incident occurrence.
But what would be the “truth” if the given testimonies of a court case are all not congruent with each other?
This is the situation in Akira Kurosawa’s film “Rashomon,” and it was presented in the form of a stage play presented in the Redfern Arts Center. The play premiered Tuesday, Feb. 28.
The play was dedicated to the loss of KSC student Jacob Messersmith, who formerly played the character of the priest in the production. KSC graduate Will Howell played the priest for the play.
He said, “The monk carries the arc of the story in that in the beginning of the play, the play starts out with a lot of despair, disbelief. Through the re-telling of the story, by the end of the story, leaves with a message of hope and that’s kind of the arc of the story.”
He went on to say, “There’s no real truth to anything. It’s the chaos of everything that is reality, and we have to search for hope in that.” The story is set in feudal Japan, around the fourteenth century.
It first takes place at a crumbling gate pass called “The Rashomon Gate” where the three main characters- the Priest, Woodcutter, and Wigmaker- discussed the recent trial of bandit Tajomaru. KSC freshman Matthew McDougal played Tajomaru.
He said, “He’s like this vile, animalistic bandit, and it took a lot of work to get from who I usually am into this person who acts like an animal, who takes what he wants, even if it is a person, even if it is sexually or with property, it took a lot. It was a little uncomfortable at times but as I got more comfortable with it, it became a lot easier.”
The bandit is tried for the murder of a royal samurai and the rape of his wife.
The stories of the crime are retold through the viewpoints of the major witnesses: Tajomaru, the raped wife, the spirit of the dead Samurai through a medium, and finally the woodcutter.
Nikki White, who played the medium, elaborated on what exactly the medium was during the trial.
“It’s basically a summoner of the dead, and in this play I summoned the spirit and the voice of the dead husband,” she said.
As the different stories were told, each character molded into different forms of the same person. KSC freshman Arielle Diaz portrayed the four different versions of the wife.
She said, “Each of them tells a different story and each one with a completely different character. So, although I am the same person, everyone describes me in a different way. In the first (story) I am portrayed as the victim of the story and then, a couple of stories later, I am the person who basically made everything happen.”
When asked about directing the play, assistant director Doug Wilcox said, “It’s all about telling the truth and getting to the story and allowing actors to take risks and challenges and explore.”
Wilcox also commented on the challenges of the play.
“It’s a very complicated script so I think that there are just in telling a story and telling the truth truthfully so we all came together and did a really good job in expressing those.”
The stage design was separated into three areas in the small black-box Wright Theatre. The first was a lone mat set to be the witness testimonial area during courtroom scenes.
The second was a large green platform with several bamboo shoots parallel to each other. As the play progressed, the platform would rotate to represent one person’s account of the crimes committed; when the platform rotated the bamboo twisted and turned to various directions ending with it spiraling over the characters as they acted.
Wilcox commented on the platform saying, “The stage goes through some transformations and it allows the stories to be told though some different perspectives. There’s four different perspectives that we go through so each time the stage shifts a little bit and changes some of that perspective and makes you think about things a little bit differently.”
The spectacle of the play also included a set piece to the left of the stage, the door of the Rashomon gate.
The set piece had a rope ladder ascending to the roof for the Wigmaker to climb up and down while speaking to and taunting the Woodcutter and Priest.
The light for each set piece matched the several moods of the play-a warm colored light set for the court mat, crisp bright light for the rotating platform, and alternating warm glows and rain shadows for the gate piece.
The play was not held to the limits of the set pieces. Oftentimes the actors would ascend and descend from the audience staircases, adding more intimacy between the audience and players.
The play had elements of sword stage combat which were acted out with sword fights between Tajomaru and the samurai.
McDougal said, “That stage combat, over and over again we had to re-do that scene (the fight scene) so that there was no actual harm because those swords, they’re dangerous. Even if they are a little dull, they can still take out a bone, they can still cut, they can still do all that stuff.”
After the Wednesday performance, there was scheduled to be a talk back session with film professor Irina Leimbacher.
However, due to the snow storm, audience members had to leave right after the play was over so the actual session did not occur.
Leimbacher said, “[The talk back session] was just going to be about questions of truth and how the film deals with that.”
She went on to comment on the play compared to the movie. “It was very interesting because there are similarities and there are differences, the script of the play is actually a little more funny I would say, also a little more engaging in a different way,” she said.
In addition, Leimbacher added, “The philosophical questions and issues are exactly the same. I really thought the student acting was fabulous.”
Ryan Loredo can be contacted at email@example.com