Two Performances

With great difficulty I tore myself away from work on the additional documents I have collected about Charna Rieger and went to two very different, yet very similar storytelling performances. This afternoon I went to a Rakugo performance. This is known as Japanese sit down (as opposed to stand up) comedy. Katsura Koharudanji first gave a talk about many of the aspects of Rakugo, then gave a wonderful performance. Normally this particular art form uses puns and in-jokes intelligible only to the Japanese speaker. Katsura san, who is giving performances around the country for a month, although speaking in Japanese with English surtitles, has tailored his monologue for English speaking audiences. I found him delightful.

This evening I went to a more serious performance, Benjamin Bagby, reciting and singing Beowulf in middle English or Anglo Saxon with surtitles. Again a fabulous performance. Bagby’s voice is perfect for the music he creates.

So, here were two performances from entirely different times and places, with entirely different intentions and very different stories. But the similarities were striking. Both men sit alone on the stage, one on a raised cushion, the other on a small bench. Rakugo uses only a fan and a handkerchief as props, with music provided occasionally by a drum and samisen. Bagby provided his own music using an Anglo Saxon harp, no other props. But both performances are highly stylized and must take years of study to perfect. Both performers were able to hold their audiences in an amazing way. I was glad I made Grandma wait.

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