I was in the mood for something completely different today, so I ventured out to Japan Society—I know, I know, that’s not exactly unusual for me, but this time, I went to see a stage production instead of a movie screening: Ashita no Ma-Joe: Rocky Macbeth, a short play that reimagines the bloody tale of Shakespeare’s mad Scottish king as the rise and fall of an ambitious boxer, drawing particular inspiration from the long-running manga series Ashita no Joe.
Reinterpretations of The Bard’s work are a dime a dozen, but this has got to be one of the most striking examples I’ve ever encountered, streamlining the source material’s sprawling narrative into a just over an hour of nonstop surreal, absurdist humor (most of which revolves around difficult-to-translate puns). The three actors (Takuro Takasaki, G.K. Masayuki, and Kazuma Takeo) effortlessly juggle various characters and performance styles, all while somehow managing to keep straight faces amidst the relentless barrage of physical comedy—as Lord and Lady Macbeth conspire to commit regicide, for instance, they are pelted with gravel; later, our tragic hero is haunted by the specter of his murdered comrade… who manifests as a giant koi fish.
The result is a bizarre, baffling, and utterly unforgettable experience. Apparently, director Yu Murai specializes in such irreverent remixes and mash-ups (according to the program, one of his more popular shows, Romeo and Toilet, features a set constructed entirely out of toilet paper rolls); I sincerely hope he’ll continue to bring his unique voice and singular vision to New York City’s safe, predictable theater scene in the future.