So we (amazingly) left work on time and headed out there. Traffic was relatively light for that time, so we got the theatre with plenty of time. So much so that we decided to go have some dinner. We went to Kelly's in Danvers. They had a ballonist drumming up some business. He was pretty good. I took a business card (Charlie Fogarty's Balloon Entertainment ballons4partiesATaolDOTcom - in case anyone is interested) He gave me the dog he'd just finished with the bouquet of flowers. I really like the flowers!
Pacific Overtures was presented by the North Shore Music Theatre. This is opening week for them, which hoppie thinks might account for some bad microphone work at some points and one or two times the singers were out of sync with each other.
Everything else goes
It's a theatre in the round with moving floor panels that raise and lower and the cast approaching from one of a number of ramps leading from the aisle. It opens with an explanation of the isolatation of Japan and Japanese culture, the rise of the shogun and the limited power of the emperor. The narrarator (reciter, they call him), provides all this background and the cast sings of the joy and simplicity of the unceasing, unchanging life in Japan. Then you meet the deputy of the shogun, the shogun is way too important to show up himself. He's interrogating a fisherman who has landed with odd news. The Americans are at Okinowa and they are coming here. What to do? By imperial decree they cannot set foot on Japanese soil. But they have war ships. The fisherman who was lost at sea and studied in Boston believes that the Americans are great, and will do good things for Japan, but he's smart enough to not say so at this point. He is already under a death sentence, first for leaving Japan, and second for returning. So the Shogun's guards seize a minor Samurai and make him the prefect of police and send him off to deal with the Americans. He is sure he will fail. He tells his wife to prepare herself against his failure. She protests his going through interperative dance. Quite lovely if a bit hard to follow. I also felt the dance was a bit shallow, but I think I'm shallow for saying that. I probably don't appreciate the nuance.
The Samurai goes to greet them in a deliciously funny boat scene and ends up going back and requesting the prisoner to help him deal with the Americans. He pretends the sailor is a great dignitary in a hilarious scene where the sailor explains that the secret to dealing with Americans is to yell louder. Still good advice, friends. The Americans still insist on meeting with the Shogun. Who does the sensible and practical thing...he refuses to leave his room. Over the next six days, his mother tries to convince him to deal with the situation while poisoning him a little each day. (like a) the Wierd Al song and b) the story about the chinese libertine who received a book from his arch enemy, a writer, on which the edges were coated with poison. The story detailed all of his exploits exaggerated to comic effect and the poison was slow acting. He died laughing nearly immediately after finishing the book.)
With the Shogun dead, she figures, the Americans will have no one to deliver their letter to. I don't know if anyone tells them that, but the sailor comes up with an idea that saves face for everyone. I won't tell you what it is. Promotions for everyone, and the idea is implemented. This leads to a great song, "Someone in a Tree." The Japanese think they've solved the problem and the Americans will go away and never return, but the American captain indulges in a triumphant kabuki dance to indicate that their involvement is just beginning.
The puppet emperor (perfectly played by an actual puppet. Brilliance) elevates the aforementioned deputy to Shogun, confirms the appointment of the samurai to a governership and elevates the fisherman to a samurai. The new Shogun is surprised when Japan is threatened by representatives of various western nations who wish to trade, or else. The Shogun, confused and upset, ends up granting the westerns all the concessions they want. Progress is recorded through the eyes of the governer who becomes increasingly acculturated to the west which takes all the goods Japan wants and needs away and brings them useless thing in returns "It's called a Bowler Hat." Meanwhile, the fisherman who was educated in Boston, is now being educated in Japan. One day, his master's daughter is assualted by three British soldiers as she tends the garden. Her father and our sailor attack and kill two of them and one survives to tell the tell. It is this way all over, the receiter tells us.
Britain demands reparations and an apology from the emperor. After the governer leaves the Shogun with this request, he is beset upon by the men of the southern lords. They wish to wrest power from the Shogun who they see as corrupt and degraded and restore it to the emperor who they believe will lead them to fight off the invasion of Western culture, amoung them is our fisherman, now Samurai. The governer recognizes him and asks how this has come to pass. The fisherman had argued so pursuasively that western advances were for the best before. The Samurai replies, "What was I then? An ignorant fisherman, no better than a country boy. And what am I now?" One can't help hearing Darth Vader in his voice, "When I left you I was the student. Now, I am the master." and he is. The new Samurai makes short work of the governer.
The southern lords go to the emperor and tell him what they have done in his name and talk of how they want to drive the barbarian foreigners out. The emporer rises for the first time, shaking off his puppet strings and demands that they cease killing in his name. The day of the Samurai is past, he proclaims, it is time to embrace the world. And embrace it he does. And so it ends.