Watoku Uenu- The Tall Keyaki Tree

La MaMa, NY, NY- 2021 Puppet Festival Series

review by Stefano Bancato

“The Tall Keyaki Tree” is promising as a work in progress but not yet ready to shine as a featured production.

Originally published in The Puppetry Journal (Fall 2021 Vol. 72 No. 4)

The shadow production The Tall Keyaki Tree was a meditation of imagery and melodic beauty. The story is based on the novel Five-Storied Pagoda by Koda Rohan, whose central character, Jubei, a young and inexperienced carpenter, is charged with constructing a pagoda. Watoku Uenu, the show’s creator and director, also designed the sets, lighting, and puppets. The shadow images were lovely and well-constructed, but the choice of sharp, cold light drained life and nuance from the silhouettes.

The Tall Keyaki Tree

Uenu is an obvious talent; however, as a piece of theater, the 50-minute run time felt far too long. Suffering from a lack of conflict and character struggle, the narrative felt flat and the pacing was laborious. Uenu would do well to collaborate on script development and staging.

Chris Ignacio’s serene and lilting voice was well-matched to play Jubei, and the live band was the highlight of the evening. Composed by Shu Odamura, the score is jazzy and pretty. The Tall Keyaki Tree is promising as a work in progress but not yet ready to shine as a featured production.

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