Three weeks from today (August 3) the first performance of Atsumori will be held at the Bloomsburg Town Park, Bloomsburg Pennsylvania. It is a charming setting on the banks of the Susquehanna River in this rural college town.
This will be a full takigi noh, with some additional maibayashi performed as part of the annual Noh Training Project. An additional performance will be held on August 4. The first evening features female lead actors with male chorus, and the second evening male leads with female chorus.
Members of Theatre Nohgaku will be involved, as well as NTP participants and guest artists Matsui Akira and Oshima Kinue. The show is free, and open to the public. If you’re on the East Coast, we hope you’ll make the opportunity to come and see this rare outdoor torchlit performance.
Atsumori is about a young warrior named Atsumori who got on the wrong side of history. His clan, the Taira, held supreme power in Japan for a brief time in the 12th century. They were warriors, but they got soft living in the capital city of Kyoto and left themselves open to attack by their rivals, the Minamoto clan. Atsumori was only 16 when he and the other Taira were driven out of the city, doomed to a life on the run and finally, destruction.
The story is told as many noh stories are told: by the ghost of the protagonist. The setting is Ichi-no-Tani, where Atsumori was beheaded by the Minamoto warrior Kumagai. Feeling great remorse for the killing, Kumagai has become a Buddhist priest and has come back to the site long after the battle to pray for Atsumori’s soul. He’s interrupted in his prayers by reed cutters, one of whom plays the flute. Kumagai recalls that Atsumori had been famous for his flute playing, and indeed had played the night before the battle, a sweet sound that could be heard by the Minamoto as they prepared their attack.
It’s clear the reed cutter is more than he seems. He asks Kumagai to continue his prayers, then mysteriously disappears. Kumagai complies, and as the night wears on he is visited by the ghost of Atsumori himself, who relives the battle in full armor. The play ends with Atsumori and Kumagai being reconciled thanks to the power of prayer. (Play description by David Crandall.)