Theater Preview: Thread Hell at Kennedy Theatre


Photo courtesy Chesley Cannon

"Thread Hell" is an avant-garde, or angura (underground), Japanese theater production about women's role in Japanese society, and makes its world-wide English-language debut at UH's Kennedy Theatre on April 12. It's written by award-winning playwright Kishida Rio, the only major female figure in the angura movement which began in Japan in the '60s.

Set in 1939, just before the start of World War II, the story takes place in a Japanese silk-spinning factory (Thread House) that also doubles as a brothel by night (due to mature themes, the play may not be appropriate for viewers under 14).

At the beginning, the women mysteriously have no memory of their pasts, but one by one, triggered by appearances by a female named Cocoon (played by Leah Koeppel), their horrific, tragic—yet understated—stories are revealed.

"I want the audience to be challenged," said guest artist, director and UH alumna Colleen Lanki. "They should be asking themselves, 'Who's in control?' 'What are my responsibilities?' I want them to be questioning themselves, and perhaps to be slightly confused.

"And to symbolize the power men have over women at this time, the male characters are all named after strings and ropes, whereas the women are all named after Hanafuda card suits, such as 'Wisteria' or 'Cherry' or 'Pine.'"

The cast is composed of 13 women and 5 men, who also utilize stick puppets and masks to further demonstrate the themes of manipulation and facade. Costumes reflect the dichotomy of traditional kimonos worn in modern styles.

Lanki and set designer Meg Hannah decided to employ the enormous space of Kennedy Theatre to show the oppression of the factory environment upon the workers as it envelopes a minimalist set.

Artistic Director of Tomoe Arts in Vancouver, Canada, Lanki has always been fascinated by aesthetics and Japanese Noh theater since she was young. She lived and worked in Tokyo for seven years, and received a variety of grants from UH and elsewhere to co-translate (along with Tsuneda Keiko in Japan) "Thread Hell" for its English-language premiere here in Hawaii.

"Thread Hell," Kennedy Theatre, 1770 East-West Rd., 956-7655,
Showtimes on April 12, 13, 18, 19, 20 at 8 p.m.;  April 21 at 2 p.m.; free pre-show chats at 7 p.m. on April 13 and 20.


Jackie M. Young has been a freelance writer since 2007, and has been involved in acting, radio and TV for many years. She is a UH graduate.

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Honolulu Magazine December 2017
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