Theater Company Kaimaku Pennant Race founder Yu Murai’s Ashita no Ma-Joe: Rocky Macbeth is silly fun, a goofy comic mash-up of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the late 1960s manga Ashita no Joe (“Tomorrow’s Joe”). Continuing at Japan Society through May 18, it’s a riotous twist on both stories that creates something fresh and new — and completely wild and unpredictable. The show takes place in and around a light-blue boxing ring onstage, open on two sides, along which the audience of no more than sixty sits. Inside the ring is a second, much smaller ring, with a malleable, flexible mat that occasionally is lifted to reveal various characters, bits of scenery, and video of a koi pond by Kazuki Watanabe. To get you in the mood as you enter the empty theater, audio plays of Steve Albert, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, and former champ Bobby Czyz calling the November 1998 championship bout between Ricardo “Finito” Lopez and Rosendo Alvarez. Beer, wine, and popcorn is available for purchase and can be consumed during the performance, as if you’re in a boxing arena. The three actors, Takuro Takasaki (Macbeth), G. K. Masayuki (Banquo), and Kazuma Takeo (Lady Macbeth), wear absurdly tight head-to-foot costumes that are a mix of wrestling uniforms and the sperm characters from Woody Allen’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex.
The dialogue can be seen on two monitors — unfortunately placed at angles that make it difficult to read and follow the action onstage simultaneously — but it’s not critical to catch every word, as there is a lot of repetition and exposition. The sixty-minute show features key plot points and quotes from Macbeth, including the witches’ prophecies and Macbeth’s rise to the top — to become both king and yokozuna — as he goes after King Duncan, Banquo, and Macduff; however, in this version, Lady Macbeth is not as central to his quest. There are also elements of Ashita no Joe, with such characters as Woolf and Joe, as well as tips of the hat to legendary sumo wrestler Kitanoumi and boxer Wajima Koichi. Along the way, Macbeth displays his boxing skills with the “back-spinning uppercut,” “triple cross counter,” and other punches and jabs and starts seeing apparitions of the men he has vanquished. “The boxing ring howls and calls for fresh blood,” one declares. There are also anachronistic pop culture references, a shaky-looking scaffold that serves as the castle (and where writer-director Murai runs things), and a battle scene in which six members of the audience need special protection. (We strongly suggest you sit in the seats warning about pebbles.) As with even the best boxers, not everything hits its mark, but more than enough does to score a knockout, a crazy, unusual immersive Shakespeare adaptation from a company that previously brought us Romeo and Toilet and King Lear, Sadaharu. There’s no telling what wonderful nonsense they’ll be up to next, but we’ll be there.