On Sept. 19th, Duke Performances brought the world-premiere tour of Pine Barrens, performed by Theatre Nohgaku, Theatre of Yugen, et al., to Reynolds Industries Theater in the Bryan Center on Duke University’s West Campus for its third performance of the titular noh play, plus a cute kyogen comedy called “The Melon Thief” (Uri Nusubito) performed by Theatre of Yugen joint artistic directors Jubilith Moore and Lluis Valls.

These two Japanese-American companies, plus a quartet of Japanese musicians (Narumi Takizawa, Tomoyasu Takenaka, Mitsuo Kama, and Akio Mugiya) performing Subayashi instrumental music on traditional instruments, provide a generous helping of Japanese musical and dramatic art. Although these offerings were not always to my taste, because the music was sometimes shrill, the pace of the plays was often glacial, and even the parts sung and chanted in English were frequently hard to comprehend, Pine Barrens and “The Melon Thief” had many entertaining moments.

“The Melon Thief,” a cheeky kyogen comedy performed in English and directed by Yuriko Doi, was my favorite episode of the evening. It featured the amusing antics by Lluis Valls as an indignant Farmer who finds his melon patch pilfered and Jubilith Moore as the brazen Melon Thief whom the wily Farmer ultimately traps—and then thrashes with his staff—by pretending to be a scarecrow guarding the melon crop.

Pine Barrens, a noh play written in English by Greg Giovanni and performed with music and choreography by Richard Emmert, is the story of the notorious Jersey Devil (the Shite played by Emmert) as he evolves from the lonely, unwanted 13th child born to a poor mother—and promised to the Devil!—to a full-fledged redheaded demon who terrorizes remote reaches of the Garden State. Unfortunately, there is not much horror in this horror story—or much action. There is a lot of chanting by a seated chorus stage left, but the Boy/Jersey Devil is pretty static. Moreover, the benign Wiccan witches Waki (Jubilith Moore) and Wakisure (Maya Gingery), who do battle with the Shite, are mostly prayer warriors; and it is only the comic interlude provided by the ravenous Ai-kyogen (Three Mosquitoes played with brio by Elizabeth Dowd, Greg Giovanni, and Colleen Lanki) that enlivens the show and provides what I consider the most entertaining episode of Pine Barrens.

All in all, Pine Barrens, “The Melon Thief,” etc., fulfilled part of Duke Performances’ mission by providing an interesting sampling of the arts forms of another culture. The set was lovely, and the costumes were not only exotic but drop-dead gorgeous. But as much as I liked “The Melon Thief,” Pine Barrens and the music played throughout the evening are apparently an acquired taste that this reviewer has not yet acquired.

Duke Performances: http://www.duke.edu/web/dukeperfs/ [inactive 8/07]. Theatre Nohgaku: http://www.theatrenohgaku.org/. Pine Barrens: http://www.theatrenohgaku.org/projects/2003_e.php. Theatre of Yugen: http://www.theatreofyugen.org/.