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Playful acting subdues message in Mikado

Indranath Neogy -- The Tech
MIT's Gilbert and Sullivan Players performed The Mikado this weekend in the La Sala de Puerto Rico.

The Mikado

MIT Gilbert and Sullivan Players.

La Sala de Puerto Rico.

Nov. 10-12, 17-19, 8 p.m.; Nov. 13, 2 p.m.

By Teresa Esser
Staff Reporter

It is obvious to any politically correct 20th-century theatre-goer that The Mikado is the product of another era. In the 19th-century England of Sir W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, no one would have batted an eyelash at the play's subtle criticism of Japanese culture. Today, however, a trip to The Mikado makes one stop and think. Although the play is skillfully written, its lines are full of tiny jibes that walk the fine line between a humorous acknowledgment of cultural differences and a racist slam at all things Japanese.

To be fair, the play does call itself a parody, and as such was meant to provide a humorous look at stereotypes. It goes out of its way to poke fun at everyone it can think of, from the conductor of the G & S orchestra "who just now has lost his place" to "the critic who writes film reviews that give away the plot." According to the light-hearted logic of the Mikado, all of these societal offenders should be beheaded.

The play revolves around a God-like Mikado (Walt Howe), an emperor who has decreed that flirting is a capital offense, punishable by decapitation. The citizens of the Town of Titipu rebel against this decree by bestowing the rank of "Lord High Executioner" upon the town flirt. This effectively frees Titipu from the mandate, for before anyone else is to be slain, the executioner must decapitate himself.

Into this melee comes the wandering minstrel Nanki-Poo (Cade Murray '96), who is running away from his impending marriage with Katisha (Cara Foss), an elderly ogre. Nanki-Poo would really like to marry the schoolgirl Yum-Yum (Karin Lin '95), and she would like to marry him, but duty impels her to marry instead the Lord High Executioner.

The plot relies on the fact that all of the characters are bound by obligation to follow the strict rules of their society, possessing as much freedom of movement as a Japanese marionette. The play's humor relies upon the fact that true love will triumph over all obstacles, even the seemingly insurmountable decree of the Mikado of Japan.

From an entertainment perspective, the musical is excellent. It was funny, colorful, and cute. Furthermore, the costumes are gorgeous. Steven Peeler conducted his orchestra with fastidious precision, from the wavering solos of the opening scenes to the triumphant grand finale. The quality of the playing was excellent also, with outstanding individual performances by Kurt Uenala on bass and Aaron Cohen '96 and Chad Musser '97 on French horn. The choir sang with enthusiam throughout the entire performance.

Excellent individual performances were also delivered by the senior members of the cast, including Michael McGuire (as the lord Pooh-Bah), Cara Foss, and Walt Howe. In all, the cast and crew gave life and spirit to the original work by Gilbert and Sullivan, bringing a slice of history to the modern theater.