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Writer's journey illuminates 'Moon Behind Clouds'

by Chian Chang
Jan 16, 2008

A story of cultural conversations comes to the city of neighborhoods this weekend at the Chicago Cultural Center.

“Like the Moon Behind the Clouds,” by playwright Donald Gecewicz, invites audiences into the world of Carla as she journeys from Rome to Tokyo, encountering along the way a Chicago lawyer and many famous Japanese writers.

Originally a memoir by Italian writer Carla Vasio, the play traces Vasio's influences during 1972-1982 when she made various visits to Tokyo, the place where her heart “opened like an eggshell,” Vasio said through a translator.

Jennifer Shook, artistic director at Caffeine Theater, which is presenting the show, says the theater's mission is to mine poetic traditions to explore social questions, and when she heard about the memoir through Gecewicz, who was then translating it, she responded, “This needs to be a play!”

Gecewicz and Vasio worked together for the past three years to adapt the memoir for the stage, and in the summer of 2007, Shook's proposal for the show was accepted by the Chicago Cultural Center.

“I'm fascinated by the idea of translation -- of poetry to stage, between cultures, between genres,” Shook said, explaining why the show fuses film, music, kabuki and puppetry from both Japan and Italy.

Drawing from the real life experience of Vasio -- a member of Group 63, which strives to break barriers of previous fascist regimes and bourgeois literature -- the fictional Carla meets famous female literary figures in Japan who also broke traditions and infused new life into old genres.

On the journey, Carla meets Lady Murasaki, (973-1025) who some argue is the first modern novelist, and who may have helped invent the Japanese script when she wrote in her own script to avoid breaking traditions forbidding women to write in Chinese characters. Along the way Carla also meets Higuchi Ichiyo (1872-1896), the first female professional writer in modern Japanese literature.

By offering a glimpse into the life of Carla and of the poets, Vasio, Gecewicz and  Shook want to lure audiences into learning more about other people and cultures. Shook and Gecewicz both said they have worked hard to respect multiple cultures.

“We are not doing kabuki, but hopefully we are including awareness of kabuki in a way that's exciting and respectful,” said Shook.

The group wants to blunt Western sensibilities towards Asia, says Gecewicz. Many foreign policy mistakes have been made due to misunderstanding other cultures. “It's easy to dehumanize people and cover it up by saying it's a small world after all," said Gecewicz. "But it's much harder to open up our hearts to the whole world.”

“Like the Moon Behind the Clouds” is playing through Feb. 24 at Studio Theater in the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph St. It's the eighth production in Caffeine Theater's four-year history.