Funabenkei

Written by Kanze Kojirō Nobumitsu
Traditional Japanese noh


To mark the 15th anniversary of the Noh Training Project in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, TN presented two performances of the classic noh play Funabenkei in Japanese in August, 2009. The first night was an outdoor, torchlit performance in Bloomsburg Town Park; the second night, due to rain, was an indoor performance at the Alvina Krause Theatre. In keeping with our usual practice, the kyogen (comic interlude) was performed in English. The production was a milestone for TN in many ways, not least because TN members (or their progeny) not only performed all of the roles but also played the instruments. Funabenkei is a popular play in the traditional repertory. A brief synopsis follows.

The great Minamoto warrior Yoshitsune has had a falling out with his brother Yoritomo, the shogun of Japan. He and a small band of faithful retainers, led by the warrior monk Benkei, are forced to flee the capital. Before boarding the ship that will bear them away to Kyushu, Benkei insists that Yoshitsune leave his beloved concubine Shizuka behind, because of the dangers that await them. The first act ends with a farewell party in which Shizuka performs one final dance for her lord in a poignant scene of heartbreak. In the ai interlude, the kyogen boat master has everyone board his ship and begins the journey. Fair weather soon turns into a tempest however, and it becomes clear that supernatural forces are at work. In the second act, the ghost of Yoshitsune’s vanquished enemy, Taira no Tomomori, appears on the water and attempts to sink the boat. Benkei steps in with Buddhist prayers to quell the demon and guide the boat to safety.