Review by David Walters

If you’re a lover of the art of theater and what it can do, how it can mix genres and forms and smash them together and create something new, highlighting aspects of the story in order to make them clearer, and are interested in the imaginative vision and creativity of artists that don’t get much of a chance to perform in New York, stop reading this review right now and go see Ashita no Ma-Joe: Rocky Macbeth (click here for tix) as there are only a few shows and a small window to catch these unforgettable visionaries.

The Japanese theater company Kaimaku Pennant Race (KPR) has taken a 1960s manga series that was a mega-hit in Japan, Ashita no Joe, that told the story of a down and out teen and his rise to becoming a professional boxer, and lay it alongside the rise and fall of the story of Macbeth killing his way to becoming king.

Japan is only second to the UK in the number of times that Shakespeare is performed.  The Japanese culture is one that comes from a sense of working for and as a group, and the, at all costs, self-serving Macbeth is fascinating.

Upon entering the theatre at The Japan Society the audience walks past the normal theatre seats and up on to the stage where the audience’s chairs surround a white boxing ring (or square circle as it’s sometimes called, alluding to its history) with ropes and a raised square in the middle.  The Lopez-Alvarez fight (a doomed fight from the start) is being called in the background as the audience assembles and sets the stage for the play.

Once the lights go down, there are two video screens that project the translation of the play for the non-Japanese speaking audience and the actors (dressed in KPR signature white unitards that let each actor play any role) morph onto the stage through the square in the center.  The center square also raises and becomes a projection screen at times, as well as an offstage wing for actors to disappear in and fish to come out of.

The relationship and partnership, between Macbeth and his Lady, is strongly paralleled with boxer Joe’s trainer and manager.  The fact that one could not exist without the other hits home as a theme that runs through the piece and highlights the fact that we don’t often act alone.

There is a playfully intimate, whimsical and light touch to the story (especially the scene around the koi pond explaining what wives are for), as well as an incredulousness at times when a feeder tube drops down from above and rains gravel upon the actors throughout a scene (talk about concentration on their part).

Ashita no Ma-Joe: Rocky Macbeth’s director and writer of this piece, Yu Murai (founder of KPR), shows brilliance in the evening that should not be missed, utilizing a physicality with his actors and an over the top humor in his storytelling.

This production, a North American premiere, will have only five performances at Japan Society (333 East 47th Street), playing May 15–18.

Stories by William Shakespeare and Ikki Kajiwara, written and directed by Yu Murai.
Performed by Takuro Takasaki, G.K. Masayuki and Kazuma Takeo.
Video design and operation by Kazuki Watanabe.

One hour in length with no intermission.