It’s highly uncommon to hear the phrase, “I want to go to hell.” Kennedy Theatre’s last main stage performance of the semester, “Thread Hell,” is a product of famed contemporary playwright Rio Kishida and delves into a modern-day hell found in our own societies in its first-ever English language iteration to be featured at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa beginning this weekend.
The women in “Thread Hell,” named after cards found in the Japanese card game hanafuda, work in a silk-spinning factory that becomes a brothel at night. The women have no recollection of their lives before the factory until a woman named Cocoon appears and begins to free them from the owner’s control.
The angura (“underground”) movement, from which “Thread Hell” originated, has “a rawness and a youthfulness about it,” said director Colleen Lanki, an alumna of the Asian theatre program who has returned as a visiting artist.
Lanki co-translated the play alongside translator Keiko Tsuneda, thus bringing the first-ever English language version of Kishida’s show into being.
The play combines traditional elements of Japanese drama (similar to those found in the theatre forms of noh and kabuki) and contemporary elements that can be found in all manner of western plays.
Adding to the novelty of this particular presentation of “Thread Hell” is the assistance and guidance of Ryoko Hina and Hitoshi Suwabe, actors from the original production and associates who worked with Kishida until her death in 2003. In addition to helping the director, Hina and Suwabe indulged the show’s cast in a series of workshops to give their input on the process and to give the actors the opportunity to learn from the best.
A COLLABORATIVE EXPERIENCE
A key element in the show, as Lanki explained, is the idea of a dynamic ensemble cast, in which all the characters work together to tell a story. Although gender distinctions are a key part of the show, the cast strives to act as a single unit, in which each action that a character takes is a reaction to one another, to create a world in which no character can make it on his or her own.
“This has been a very different rehearsal process,” said Leah Koeppel, who plays Cocoon. This commitment to an ensemble cast led to as many people as possible being included in each rehearsal to augment the idea of the cast as a single, living unit.
“Thread Hell” deals with mature themes and is not recommended for viewers under the age of 14. While the play was written as an exploration of the identity and role of Japanese women in the 1930s, the issues it addresses remain relevant even in today’s American society.