Kwaidan materializes magnificently at UNO Theatre. This evocation of Japanese Ghosts and Demons comes alive. The Immersive Journey compels in its conception. In its realization.

Credit visiting director Izumi Ashizawa and UNO director Dr. Cindy Melby Phaneuf for a brilliant and fascinating experience.  

Remarkable visual effects, choreography, costumes and perfectly integrated style make this rare and memorable. The performers, many of them UNO students, create impeccable interpretations.

The production, indeed, immerses visitors, more than a collection of passive witnesses. It moves from space to space within the halls, corridors and platforms, along the stairs of UNO Theatre’s domain in the Weber Fine Arts Building. Characters speak to one directly, sometimes face to face and as near as one’s open eyes and ears. Or may ask one to assist, to participate. Solemn wordless guides may touch one’s arm.. No harm lies in wait for the visitor.

The harm lies within the stories told. The dead rise. Some are cursed. Some invoke curses on the living. All this unfolds along the pathways of a guided tour, following the wanderings and discoveries of Lafcadio Hearn. That famed Greek and Irish-parented, multi-year resident of U.S. cities, eventually inhabited Japan. Here he asks you to accompany him as he collects the tales as if a newcomer to the culture. He will become so immersed that, as if haunted himself, he takes on roles within the tales. 

Encounter the beauty of giant glowing-hued streams of fabric swirling to an immense and distant ceiling overhead. Later, within that same circling frame, see the spirit of a woman in white, melding with flying snowflakes twirling in the same wind which streams her clothing and long hair.

Two lines of characters emerge and merge into a pulsating creature with multiple arms and legs. A kind of unity in space and time.

Samurai warriors, separately, confront tasks against immortal odds in struggles they may not win.

A floating severed head. A swaddled baby turns into a ribbon of blood. The spirits of lost loves cannot be placated. The souls of rescued lives offer power in the here and now. Somewhere in the shadows, out of sight, voices howl and walls are incessantly tapped. A woman with a shiny mirror keeps materializing; she has some kind of a message.  Masks. Bones. Skulls. Motionless prostrate bodies.

Make your own discoveries.

The 16-member cast becomes a versatile ensemble, melding and moving to fill each space with definitive shading as if stepping out from Hearn’s brushstrokes as human or as non-human as the scrolls intend.

Credit costume designer Valerie St. Pierre Smith of the UNO faculty plus Melissa Valdez for gorgeous kimonos as well as thorough details of what men of this culture would wear, springing off from Ashizawa’s ideas.  And the faculty’s Steven L. Williams has found imaginative ways to make the spaces mysterious, but not threatening. His lighting illuminates what needs to be seen.

Ashizawa, co-author of this transformation of Hearn’s writing, explains and elaborates on the background in worthy program notes. Upon arrival, you may have time to read, seated in what looks like a deserted house with cloth-covered furniture.  

Once on the move be aware that, occasionally, there are multiple flights of stairs to ascend and descend. Some stops along the way have benches on which walkers can pause while still witnessing what transpires.  

Prepare yourself for magic. Prepare yourself to witness imagination. The spirits await.  

Kwaidan-Japanese Ghosts and Demons unfolds through April 23 at UNO’s Weber Fine Arts Building, 6001 Dodge Street. Weds.-Sat. 7 & 9 p.m. Tickets: $6-$16. UNO students: free.

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