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CULTURE | Vol. 7, No. 9, March 1, 2007
(Leaders Mission)

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Japanese Whodunit

by Beege Welborn


What: “Rashomon” play
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: UWF Center for Fine and Performing Arts, Mainstage Theatre, Bldg. 82, 11000 University Pkwy.
Cost: $16, $12 senior citizens, active military, free UWF students
Details: 474-2541

She floats sylphlike into the interview, an elegant picture of simplicity in a black sheath.  She smiles as she sits down.

“Let me guess,” I say. “You’re the wife.”  She laughs and says, “Yes, I am! My name is Tristian. My character is a psychotic.”

Welcome to the twisted, mystifying world of “Rashomon.”

Tristian Luysterberg plays Kinume, wife of a murdered Samurai and a rape victim.  Or is she?

Based on stories by early 20th century Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa, “Rashomon” is the story of rape, murder and a court confounded by all the plausible accounts.

The story unfolds in flashbacks—four disparate, believable tales of the crimes, told by three witnesses and, via medium, the murdered man’s ghost.

How does working with a story and character this heavy and twisted affect Luysterberg? It’s clear she revels in the complexities of the leading role.

“When the play first opens you see the wife as the victim, but as you delve more into the script, she’s really not the victim,” the actress says. “Everybody else is the victim because she plays these games. It’s really been a process for me.”

Directing the University of West Florida production is K. Celeste Evans, an instructor, UWF Tapestry Theatre artistic director and lifelong theater enthusiast. She likes this play because it shares an accurate portrayal of Japanese culture.

“Even though this is a Japanese play, we have students of various backgrounds and so that’s what we love,” Evans says. “I was drawn to this play because it, in a way, does leave you hanging. Just like with life, there’s not always a tidy ending.”

Besides the actors, UWF theater students are involved in every phase of the production. The students’ enthusiasm for the whodunit is readily apparent.

The plot revolves around the Rashomon Gate, an ancient relic outside the walls of Kyoto. It has fallen into disrepair and become a hangout for vagabonds, thieves and corpse dumpers.

After a bandit’s attempted robbery ends in murder and a sexual assault, the twists and turns of the testimony in court and in flashbacks baffle and challenge the audience. 

The wife weaves her tale, staking a claim for sympathy. The bandit, the dead Samurai and the woodcutter, who claims he witnessed the attack, all add their contradictory versions of events.

It leaves the audience to reach their own conclusion of what actually transpired.

Luysterberg says there isn’t necessarily an “Aha!” moment.

“There may be for some people, but because there are four different sides to the story, some people will leave scratching their heads,” she says.

“Rashomon” promises to be a thought-provoking brainteaser with both deep human and mystic elements, Evans says, adding, “There will be people who think ‘I got it! I know who did it!’”