By Holli Harms
Rakugo is the Japanese art of comic storytelling that dates as far back as 794 where Japanese monks told humorous stories that helped teach the ways of Buddhism. I don’t normally think of monks as being humorous but there you have it.
Precision and minimalism are part of this ancient storytelling. A single person on stage, wearing kimono and kneeling on a mat, their only props are a fan and washcloth. Remaining seated, a head turn this way, and that way to mark a different speaker, the stories unwind, always ending with a punch line. Oh, don’t you wish you could have seen the monks of ancient times unfolding their stories?Clearly, you can’t but you CAN experience Katsura Sunshine’s Rakugo performance at the New World Stages through the end of the 2023 year. Sunshine is performing in residency in New York City and London’s West End. Each performance promises to be a new story. I believe that is true as the night I attended there was an uproar of applause and cheers the minute Sunshine hit the stage, informing me that many had already experienced him and his stories and were back for new experiences, and IT IS an experience.
Sunshine is affable, smart, jovial, funny, and precise. I am so honored that I got to experience his narration of such an old and respected art form. Sunshine was born in Canada and has been living, off and on in Japan for the last 25 years. His love of the people of Japan and their culture comes through in his performance. It’s intriguing when someone dives so completely into a culture so different from their own and not only embraces their newfound home but is driven to share their love and fascination with the rest of us. And thank goodness Sunshine is sharing with us as we are the better for it. Art has the ability to bring us together and hold our similarities up to the mirror. It has the ability to break down borders. Japanese humor is very much about self-deprecation and misunderstandings and the stumbles and falls of life. Universal.
The night I saw Sunshine perform he had a special guest who had literally just arrived from Japan and made her way from the airport to the theater. She is a Japanese Kirie artist. Kirie is the Japanese art of paper cutting. We were mesmerized as we watched her take a plain white sheet of paper and create rabbits, the Statue of Liberty, and silhouettes with nothing but scissors. She sang and danced as she cut angle upon angle of the paper. Cutting and cutting until she opened the paper to reveal the detailed work.
Storytelling and paper cutting, an exceptional night at the theater.
Sunshine IS a ray of sunshine. He is here to make us laugh and enjoy ourselves and remember our collective “we”.
He asks that you join him at the end of the performance at the nearby bar Barking Dog for a drink and chat. Your “program” that you are handed as you enter offers your first drink for five dollars from Barking Dog so keep it and take it with you and join Sunshine for a drink or two or more and for stories, lots of stories, and laughter.
Katsura Sunshine’s Rakugo, created, directed, and performed by Katsura Sunshine
Scenic Design by Mikiko Suzuki Macadams, Lighting Design by Yuki Nakase Link, Original son Sunshine Megahorn, LDK Productions
New World Stages 340 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019
Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission
Running through December 23, 2023
Ticket information can be found HERE along with the dates of the run.