A murdered Empress, an Evil Sorcerer, and a ghostly Dragon haunt the stage in Larime Taylor's "Call of the Dragon".
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Kyouko, daughter of the recently deceased Empress, is apalled when her father, Emperor Meshiro, after the briefest period of mourning, marries his step-daughter, Kyouko's half-sister, Yukiko. Yet Kyouko's trials, at that point, have only begun. Shortly, she will be visited by the ghost of her mother, who comes in the form of a dragon, to tell Kyouko that her mother's death was not from natural causes, but the result of a foul conspiracy.
If the plot sounds familiar, it should be. "Call of the Dragon" is basically a gender-reversed "Hamlet" set in Japan, with an evil sorcerer thrown in for good measure. Written and directed by Larime Taylor, the play employed not only masks, but also large puppets manipulated by black clad puppeteers - butterflys in a garden and huge fish in a silk scarf evoked fish pond, and featured a stylised ritual duel with samurai swords, the whole punctuated by the sounds of live taiko drums, wood blocks and shakuhachi flute.
Creating masks for this production presented an interesting set of challenges. The masks had to feel Japanese, without specifically imitating Noh or other Japanese masks. They had to be expressive - seeming to take on different expressions depending on the lighting, or how the wearer held their head. They had to encode information about the characters in their colors and forms.
Additionally, the masks for two characters, Kyouko and Reiko, had to be shaped so as to avoid obstructing the actors' peripheral vision at all, at all, as these two (analogues to Hamlet and Laertes respectively), had to perform a strenuous duel with Japanese Katana at the end of the last act.
Writer-director Larime Taylor had some specific ideas about these masks before we even began. He sent me the script, and we had extensive discussions by email and telephone about the masks and the characters. Larime had developed a whole sort of magical mythology about these characters - he saw each one as associated with an element (stone, metal, water, etc), and with various animals (tiger, fish, horse). He was able to give me a tremendous amount of information about each character which, though much of it never appeared overtly in the script, informed the background and development of these characters.
Jane Seed, Larime's costume designer, then took face casts of all the principle actors, which she shipped to my studio. These casts allowed me to customize the masks to fit each actor perfectly.
Everyone seemed quite pleased with the final results, including the Inland Theatre League, which gave me an award for Mask Design. The show itself went on to win numerous awards, including several from the Kennedy Center Theater Festival, including a Best New Original Play, and Meritorious Achievement for Larime as Writer/Director.
Images of the masks from this production were also used as the basis for digital paintings designed with my friend & collaborator, Gregory A. Gallo. These creations can be seen at Greg's online portfolio at Zazzle.