THE CRIMSON BOOKSHELF REVIEWS
Plays of Old Japan: translated by Leo Duran. Thomas Seltzer: New York, 1921.
The value of the various editions of Noh plays that have appeared in this country lies in the fact that they have, as far as the difficulties of translation would permit, aimed at preserving the very essence of Japanese drama. They have not arranged, edited, and adapted famous Japanese plays to make them more acceptable to our dramatic standards. They have remained faithful to the originals.
Mr. Duran in his "Plays of Old Japan" has set out to do a very different and less satisfactory work. He has deliberately combined many plays, and "out of a mass of documents" he has extracted "a limited number of situations" which he has put together "to make five subjects, each complete in itself and offering possibilities for production on the English and American stage." He has cut the "long, rather tedious dialogues" of the original and has "written rapid dramatic scenes giving an actor full opportunity to work himself into the spirit of the part". Working on that basis there is no reason why a Japanese student of English drama should not cut "Hamlet" of all its language, and leave only its basic melodrama "to give an actor full opportunity to work himself into the spirit of the part", which, of course, the original dramatist was unable to do and did not think of.
If one should edit a volume of plays and call it "Plays of Old France" one would not expect to find there only the sensationalism of the Grand Guignol. But that is what Mr. Duran has done for the dramatic literature of old Japan. "I have selected", he writes, "scenes which to my mind are intensely thrilling and have all amount of sensationalism and horror of which we have never been aware". He has accomplished what he set out to do. These mangled dramas are thrilling and horrible to an unusual degree. But beside being selected from a very special field of the drama of Japan, they give a very unfair picture of oriental life. In each of the five plays the prime minister is dissolute, carrying on an illicit and brutal love affair with a Gelsha girl: In no one of them does the scene get far away from the parlor of a Gelsha house. Mr. Duran, with a literary cruelty seldom seen before, has represented as typical of the "Plays of Old Japan" a special type of drama, which is no more representative of Japanese life, than "The Easiest Way" or "Damaged Goods" are representative of the drama and life of the United States and France.