by Steve Desroches
Marcel Meyer and Justin Chevalier in The Lady Aoi.
Photo: Fiona Macpherson
A dying woman is visited by a vengeful specter as the past, in all is complexity, quite literally comes back to haunt her and her husband in The Lady Aoi, a play by one of Japan’s most well-known writers, Yukio Mishima, now playing at the Provincetown Theater in a series of sneak peak performances before it joins the bill of the upcoming Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival the last weekend of September. This lush and surreal short play is a prime example of how fortunate audiences are in Provincetown to have such diverse offerings to see theater that challenges us as well as provides an opportunity to learn about previously unfamiliar theatrical traditions.
Presented by Abrahamse & Meyer Productions from Cape Town, South Africa, with whom the Festival has had a long and fruitful relationship, The Lady Aoi (pronounced ah-oh-ee) is both a spooky and intense, and at times campy, ghost story that reflects a violent eroticism and the reverberations of heartbreak through a shattered mirror, with no clear distinction as to what is real and what is the product of a fevered dream. That line between the living and the dead, and memory and regret, is erased in a fascinating and chilling way. As the Lady Aoi lay in a coma (presented as an elaborate puppet), her husband Hikaru Wakabayashi, portrayed by Justin Chevalier with both a chivalrous stiff upper lip and deep innocence, returns from a business trip to be with his ailing wife, who is being looked after by a bizarre nurse played by Marcel Meyer, who then brilliantly transforms into Yasuko Rokujo, the menacing phantom, haunted by love lost and a heartbroken prophecy fulfilled. In this play that’s just shy of an hour. Meyer and Chevalier are mesmerizing and able interpreters of this story first performed in 1954, but which is a modernization of the 15th-century noh (classical Japanese drama) titled Aoi no Ue, under the lyrical direction of Fred Abrahamse.
Abrahamse & Meyer first presented The Lady Aoi in Provincetown at the 2014 Tennessee Williams Festival and have brought it back this year as the Festival explores the friendship and symbiotic artistic relationship between Williams and Mishima. Without exception, Abrahamse & Meyer continually bring thoughtful, innovative, and fresh productions to Provincetown and have become an important part of not only the Festival, but of the theatrical legacy of the Cape tip. While unconventional and rooted in a distant culture, this production of The Lady Aoi is a marvelous opportunity to lean into a rare theatrical event.
The Lady Aoi is presented at the Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St., Thursday, September 19 through Saturday, September 21 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, September 22, 2 p.m. Tickets ($35/$29/$24 for students and seniors 65+) are available at the box office and online at provincetowntheater.org. The Lady Aoi returns to the Provincetown Theater as part of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival with six performances from Thursday, September 26 through Sunday, September 29. Tickets ($35) and specific show times are available online at twptown.org. For more information call 866.789.TENN.