How a tale may get twisted. `Rashomon' returns with its engaging irony

Rashomon Play by Fay and Michael Kanin, based on stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa and Akira Kurosawa's film ``Rashomon.'' Directed by Robert Kalfin. In reviving ``Rashomon'' locally for the first time since its 1959 Broadway premi`ere, the Roundabout Theatre Company has populated Fay and Michael Kanin's adaptation with an Asian cast.

The revival staged by Robert Kalfin thereby acquires a kind of ethnic authenticity, even though the play itself remains an American retelling of a tale set in Kyoto 1,000 years ago.

The theme remains the search for truth which, like beauty, ``is in the eye of the beholder.''

The unfoldment begins at the decaying Rashomon Gate as a Priest (Thom Sesma), a Woodcutter (Peter Yoshida), and a rascally Wigmaker (Norris M. Shimabuku) discuss a recent sensational crime. In the nearby woods, so the story goes, a notorious bandit has raped a samurai's wife and murdered the samurai.

Testifying in a magistrate's court, the Bandit (James Saito), the Wife (Kiya Ann Joyce), and a Medium (Allan Tung) representing the samurai's ghost give sharply conflicting versions of events. Each account is self-servingly subjective, a human failing that feeds the irony of ``Rashomon.'' It remains for the Woodcutter, who did not come forward in court, to tell his companions what really happened.

The Roundabout production is engagingly atmospheric. Miss Joyce's Wife epitomizes the fragile vulnerability of a woman doubly victimized. James Saito is a wildly cavalier captive.

David Leong has directed the two adversaries in some swordplay that helps enliven an entertainment more given to words than action. In their Greek chorus roles, Sesma, Yoshida, and Shimabaku strengthen a laudable ensemble performance.

Designer Mina Albergo accommodates the antique events in a setting that moves (with the help of F. Mitchell Dana's lighting ) from the great gate to the magistrate's court, and the forest scene of the crimes. Cecelia Eller created the exotic Oriental costumes, and Philip Campanella has devised music and sound effects to suit a tale of violence near ancient Kyoto.

``Rashomon'' runs through May 8.

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