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Candide, or Optimism 

Wednesday, May 13 2009

Combining an 18th-century French satire with a traditional Japanese theatrical form may seem like a gimmick just waiting to fail. But in Theatre of Yugen's new Kyogen-style adaptation of Voltaire's Candide, form and content inform each other in fascinating ways. Kyogen is a centuries-old style of Japanese comedy, developed as a companion to the much more somber, formal Noh dramas. It is characterized by an extremely stylized presentation that, when done effectively, elevates comedy to the level of ritual. It's an ingenious way of presenting Voltaire's work, since the elaborate choreography and exaggerated line delivery complement the heightened reality of his wide-ranging, none-too-subtle satire. Audiences with no prior exposure to Kyogen may find the first few minutes a little jarring as they adjust to the deliberate rhythms of the dialogue. But those same rhythms soon become almost entrancing, and anyone with an eye for theatrical movement will appreciate the precision and inventiveness directors Jubilith Moore and Yukio Ishida bring to the stage. The production loses a bit of momentum in the second act, but the uniformly stellar cast helps maintain interest even when the story lags. This Candide is an unexpected thrill.

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Chris Jensen


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