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A Season in Intercultural Limbo: Ninagawa Yukio's Doctor Faustus, Theatre Cocoon, Tokyo


This essay peers into Ninagawa Yukio’s recent production of Doctor Faustus to crystallize the current predicament of intercultural theater. While echoing criticism of Ninagawa’s work as implicated in postcolonial globalization, it argues that the director has increasingly forged an aesthetic that is self-reflexive, anxious, and defiant about its cultural borrowings. In this case, a Westernized performance of Marlowe’s Elizabethan tragedy was punctured by a flickering translucent wall that revealed kabuki actors backstage, transforming themselves into demons. Hell was not an infernal realm of torment but a playful evocation of the ukiyo (“floating world”) culture of Edo Japan, with its headlong embrace of transient pleasures. By portraying a European Faustus seduced and bedeviled by a distinctively Japanese performance tradition, Ninagawa managed to “stage the metadrama” of his own intercultural theater. The essay concludes by speculating why Marlowe’s plays (more so than Shakespeare’s) offer such a surprisingly crisp reflection of a global society without firm cultural boundaries. Tapping into Faustus’s sense of the rootlessness of the early modern intellectual and relating it to that of the postmodern metropolitan homme du monde, this production made Marlowe’s Renaissance morality play feel prophetic and relevant. Like the cultural limbo it charts, the essay stakes out a discursive limbo between a conventional theater review and a full-blown monograph, suggesting how performance can invigorate criticism.

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