Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Port City Playhouse Rashomon

By • Nov 9th, 2010 • Category: Reviews
Port City Playhouse
The Lab at Convergence, Alexandria, VA
Through November 20th
1:10 with no intermission
$18/$16 Seniors and Juniors
Reviewed November 5th, 2010

In Port City Playhouse’s Rashomon, three travelers seek shelter at the Rashomon Gate during a rainstorm the day after a murder trial. The first two, a Buddhist priest leaving his order and an ordinary woodcutter recount the trial to a wigmaker who steals hair from dead bodies. The three parties to the murder testify, each telling a slightly different version of the story. Rashomon is a show laced with moral ambiguities that beg for analysis and discussion.

Director Howard Vincent Kurtz has crafted a technically superior production. However, being a Japanese-culture enthusiast, I am inclined to be tough on his interpretation, therefore I shall curb my enthusiasm because it doesn’t detract from the story. Rashomon was flawlessly executed, but distinctly Western in its interpretation–like a hamburger with teriyaki sauce; not unpleasant, but distinctly Western despite its Japanese savor.

Although Port City Playhouse’s new location is very small overall, the minimalist set was well-designed for the space. Lighting was integral to the show. Ari McSherry designed a lighting scheme that clearly delineated the areas within the story.

The backdrop, evocative of a bamboo forest–a frequent occurrence in Japanese culture–created depth and dimension. Each character stepped into the “triangle” created by bamboo stems as they told their story (a fabulous blocking technique that further served to unify the director’s objective). The space was utilized well, despite the small stage, and incorporated areas of the floor into the action.

My only criticism of the blocking stems from the fight choreography. It was entirely unbelievable. The actors’ actions were small, slow, and anticlimactic. The fight looked more like a cock-fight than a sword-dance. Its lackluster concept unfortunately soured the whole scene.

Costumes were uniquely significant in this production. Each actor wore black clothing, without shoes, and changed the robe over their clothing several times. The robes were suited their character without being overly elaborate (my favorite of the evening was the Samurai’s robe with its rich fabric and ample sleeves). The biggest flaws I saw were the wife’s costume which looked like a bathrobe and her hat which looked like a paddy hat with a towel over it. A little more effort with sashes and belts would have added another layer of authenticity which would have served to enhance the “flavor” of the production.

The actors and “Hayashi,” or “musicians,” worked very well together. They had great chemistry and excellent timing. Each actor had multiple characters to play and each one was thoughtfully distinctive. I would expect nothing less from the assembled talent.

James McDaniel continues to be one of my favorite community actors. McDaniel’s silent acting even stole the attention of my friend who is not a theater enthusiast. His energy and dedication to his art is truly delightful to watch.

David James emphasized the change in his woodcutter character very well. Although he was not entirely believable at the start, he finished the show on a strong note and effectively won the sympathy of audience members.

Diane Linton Sams did an especially good job of accentuating the differences between her characters and their moods. Alternately brassy and shy, forward and reserved, Sams definitely had the nuances of her roles securely under her obi- er, belt.

The Hayashi, Randy Sena and Jung Weil, were active members of the productive, but in a ghostly, ethereal way. Their contributions to the show were superbly timed and integral to the atmosphere of the production.

Rashomon has a distinct savor that many will enjoy. It would be terrific for theater students looking for a show to analyze for a paper (just putting that out there). Small children will not enjoy the nuanced script, but this excellent production will definitely score high points with intellectuals and audiences interested in exploring other cultures.

Director’s Notes

There are THREE sides to every story…

Over the last 50 years it’s come to be known as the Rashomon Effect–those inexplicable blips in perception that can occur when several people recall the same event, each believing his or her version to be the absolute truth. And though the term derives from Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 Oscar-winning film that famously revolved around varying takes on one crime, the source material actually goes further back, to a pair of early 20th-century short stories by Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Kurosawa adapted Akutagawa’s short stores, Rashomon and In a Grove, which told the differing accounts of a samurai’s murder to create his Rashomon.

Triangular compositions abound in Kurasawa’s Rashomon and the 1959 Broadway stage version. Almost every scene can be viewed as well-composed photograph, a self-contained work of art by itself. There are three individuals at the Rashomon gate, discussing the same crime: a woodcutter, a wigmaker, and a priest. There are three people in the forest: the husband (a samurai who is murdered), his wife (who is raped), and Tajomaru (a bandit who confesses to both deeds). And there are three other characters who appear in court: a deputy, a mother, and a shaman. Kurosawa was meticulous and left nothing to chance, to the “trinity” motif is presumably intentional. The presence of three actors in every scene on stage and in the film creates a dramatic tension that is inherently unstable and highlights the elements of mystery and suspense in the story.

In this new adaption for Port City Playhouse I have remained true to the ideas presented in Kurosawa’s film and the Broadway stage adaptation. I have, however, reduced the original nine actors in the Broadway play to three actors, playing off all nine parts, with the addition of two “Hayashi” musicians in non-speaking roles.

Rashomon asks important questions about honesty and truth–who is right and who is wrong, when every witness to the crime offers a slightly different though equally plausible version of what might have happened? This compelling dramatic folk-tale is a classic reminder that there may be three sides to every story.

Enjoy the show
Howard Vincent Kurtz


  • Actor1: Priest, deputy, husband, mother: James McDaniel
  • Actor 2: Woodcutter, bandit: David James
  • Actor 3: Wigmaker, wife, shaman: Diane Linton Sams
  • Hayashi: Randy Sena
  • Hayashi: Jung Weil


  • Producer: Alan K. Wray
  • Director: Howard Vincent Kurtz
  • Stage Manager: Donna J. Reynolds
  • Set Design: Howard Vincent Kurtz
  • Set Construction: Charles Dragonette, Jim Hutzler, Robert Kraus, Frank Pasqualino, Dick Schwab, and Pete Sudkamp
  • Set Painting: Charles Dragonette, Julia Harrison, Jim Hutzler, Howard Jaffe, Sam Poole, Susie Poole, and Calvert Whitehurst
  • Lighting Design and Master Electrician: Ari McSherry
  • Assisted by Julia Harrison, Robert Kraus, Don Neal, Susie Poole, and Pete Sudkamp
  • Costume Coordination: Genie Baskir and Howard Vincent Kurtz
  • Properties: Susie Poole
  • Assisted by Tonda Phalen, Frank Pasqualino, Jessica Poole, and Meghan Lau
  • Combat Choreography: Maxie Morales
  • Production Photography: Ari McSherry

Disclaimer: Port City Playhouse provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is a student of Speech and Communication at Northern Virginia Community College. She has been involved in the performing arts since the age of five when she debuted as the Little Red Hen on an elementary school stage. Her career includes both national and international ensemble performances with semi-professional choirs, various roles in community and college musicals (both onstage and off), as well as co-directing drama camp for Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, VA.

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