Complex, metaphorical, confusing and powerful all describe Kennedy Theatre’s presentation of “Thread Hell,” written by Rio Kishida and directed by Colleen Lanki. This play is not light-hearted or easy to understand, but it is overflowing with symbolism that challenges the role of women in society during the 1930s Japanese imperialist expansion.
I went into “Thread Hell” clueless about what I was about to experience. The plot revolves around women who work in a thread house that turns into a brothel at night, but the performance gave so much more.
While watching, the plot was difficult to pick out, as it was buried under layers of lies, stories and poetry. Unfortunately, instead of trying to figure out what “Thread Hell” was telling me, I struggled to figure out what was going on. This is where I made my mistake.
After reflecting upon “Thread Hell,” I realize that it is a brilliant piece of work, and the actors did it great justice. But I wish I had gone into the show with more understanding so that I could have appreciated it more in the moment. There are a few things that you should keep in mind before seeing the show to have the best experience.
First, the show doesn’t follow a linear chronological path. A large part is made up of flashbacks, and it can get confusing if the audience assumes that the flashbacks are key to the plot.
One of the main themes of the show is identity – particularly the identity of women and how men try to take that away. The owner of the thread house is a controlling man who refuses to let the female workers have their own memories. Much of the show revolves around the women telling broken, murderous stories of what they believe to be their pasts. You don’t need to remember each woman’s story to understand the next part of the play; you have to look beyond each story to figure out that they represent the effects of what society has done to that woman.Some of the actions are metaphorical, while others are not. It is easy to get the two mixed up, as they often occur at the same time. One scene involves a group of men who attempt to puppeteer the prostitutes while two of the main women are coming to terms with their relationship with each other. One must focus to differentiate between reality, memory and metaphor. If you can make this distinction, the show is more enjoyable and meaningful.
Finally, read the program. “Thread Hell” is a complicated piece, but it does require knowledge beforehand to be appreciated. The program gives you that knowledge without spoilers.
Aside from the complex plot and themes, the acting was fantastic. The women play off of each other perfectly, and on the rare occasions that they spoke in unison, it was mesmerizing and flawless. The set is simple and flexible, which fits the show best as the women need to shift between their roles as silk-reeling girls to prostitutes. The segments with poetry were lengthy, but they were well done and helped to further the meaning of the show.
Ultimately, “Thread Hell” is a powerful show worth seeing. However, one must go into it with an open mind, otherwise confusion might get in the way of understanding
Four out of five Torches