Review: Rashomon at CCBC Performing Arts Academic Theatre

Everyone tells the tale that they want the world to believe. Why should collegiate theatre be any different as they tell the tale of Rashomon adapted from the film by Akira Kurosawa by Fay and Michael Kanin? Rising like the fine morning mist at dawn on the main stage of the Theatre Building at the Community College of Baltimore County Catonsville’s Campus, Performing Arts at CCBC brings an academic student production forth to explore how one story can have many tellings as the events are always in the eye of the beholder. Directed by Zachary Hartley, the production is set against a breathtaking scenic revolution that captures the eye during the entirety of the production.

Aris Hines (top left) as Wigmaker, Robert Mendelson (bottom left) as Woodcutter and Tirrell Bethel (bottom right) as Priest in Rashomon
Aris Hines (top left) as Wigmaker, Robert Mendelson (bottom left) as Woodcutter and Tirrell Bethel (bottom right) as Priest in Rashomon

Set & Lighting Designer Moe Conn pulls out the stops when it comes to capturing a look of authenticity in his scenic vision. The Rashomon Gate in times of Feudal Japan looks striking and impressive even in its crumbling state of decay. The red color scheme captures the notion of crime and injustice and has a resolutely oriental verve to the overall aesthetic of the show. Conn uses his precision lighting abilities to call scenes of recollected memory in and out of place, making them flow fluidly from one to the next so that there is clarity between present action and past moments being retold and revisited. The fly-in bamboo forest is another delightfully authentic touch in Conn’s scenic work that really grounds the memories of the crime in their purported location.

Costume Designer James J. Fasching furthers the airs of Feudal Japanese reality with kimonos, work clothes, robe-wraps, sedge hats (with a veil) and toe-shoes appropriate of a warrior or samurai. Fasching’s simplistic approach to the show’s couture settles into the simple lesson behind the story as it unfolds, letting the narrative speak for itself without being weighted down in heavy fashion statements. Sound Designer Aris Hines infuses the melodic music of the era into the house prior to the show’s beginning, though these delicate and calming selections are seldom featured within the production itself. This is a shame as Hines has made some fine choices of underscoring to set the nerves at ease before heading into the edgier more dramatic moments of the show. Choosing to have unseen actors create the ‘countdown’ sound effects preceding battle is a smart choice and validates the live-action timing of the fight scenes. Hines’ thunderstorm effects are also well suited to the production.

Randi Seepersad as Wife in Rashomon at Performing Arts CCBC Academic Theatre
Randi Seepersad as Wife in Rashomon at Performing Arts CCBC Academic Theatre

Director Zachary Hartley makes a few questionable choices in regards to the direction of the show as a whole, primarily with the shocking level of irreverence presented in particular characters. A time-honored tale enveloped in a noble culture with great honor falls victim to cheap laughs and crass jokes in Hartley’s approach to The Wigmaker and other characters. While the performances are steadfast and true across the board, Hartley’s direction leaves somewhat of a bitter taste in the mouth of those familiar with the reverence and respect of this Japanese tale. Hartley’s target audience, however, took great amusement where he pushed for the laughs and in moments where he turned the story into a series of humors rather than the deeply dramatic tale that the dialogue indicates.

Aris Hines, who plays as the Wigmaker, serves up fabulous sass and is a bit over the top when it comes to his responses. Hines’ performance carries a great deal of tongue-in-cheek deliveries and is infused with a bawdy and crass nature befitting of his role in society. Ghoulish in nature, Hines runs about channeling the spirit of RuPaul in this sassy and melodramatic portrayal. This is a sharp contrast to both the Priest (Tirrell Bethel) who is quick to anger and even quicker to blast his frustrations aloud, and the Woodcutter (Robert Mendelson) who is much more mild mannered but not without his sneaky airs. There is an unsettling balance of emotional outpours across the three reflective characters, with Hine being the ring-leader of wisdom in the triangle.

Denzel Dickens as Tajomaru in Rashomon at Performing Arts CCBC Academic Theatre
Denzel Dickens as Tajomaru in Rashomon at Performing Arts CCBC Academic Theatre

Darius Foreman, as Husband, and Denzel Dickens, as Tajomaru, should be commended for their fight choreography. Taking katana to katana no fewer than thrice in the production, the way they charge at one another delivers the ferocious intent behind the warrior of Dickens’ character and the honor of Foreman’s samurai character. Both are present of mind on the stage, particularly Dickens when retelling his side of the story and letting his arrogance and bragging nature dominate his words. Foreman, in a haunting scene shared with the Medium (Ayana Towe) delivers in harrowing detail the account of his side of the story and it becomes one of the most respectable moments in the production.

The remainder of the cast— Donita McCullough as Mother, Randi Seepersad as Wife, and Mike Smith as the Deputy, all do strong character work in their respective scenes, particularly Seepersad’s versatility as Wife in each of the different recollections of her tale. All told the production has a profound message to be taken away and strong performances from the student actors, if one can look past Hartley’s directorial misguidance.  

Running Time: Approximately 65 minutes with no intermission

Rashomon plays through April 18, 2016 through Performing Arts at CCBC Academic Theatre at the Community College of Baltimore County’s Catonsville’s Campus on the Main Stage of the Theatre Building— 800 S. Rolling Road in Catonsville, MD. For tickets call the box office at (443) 840-2787 or purchase them online.


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