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bar.txt [ theatre theory ] Thr w/Anatoly blog * my notebook THEATRE 2008



In the elegant garden of the official residence of the Lord High Executioner of Titipu the town's noblemen have gathered, soon to be joined by Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything Else, and Pish-Tush, a nobleman.

This is a purely ceremonial affair. The various lords sit quietly in attitudes of nobility. The sudden appearance of a threadbare minstrel, carrying his Japanese guitar, startles them. He is Nanki-Poo, a handsome young man very much in love with one of the Lord High Executioner's official wards, Yum-Yum. The lords are curious about him; his poverty amidst their splendor and his questions about Yum-Yum demand explanation. The young man is asked to identify himself, which he does.

         A wandering minstrel I-
           A thing of shreds and patches,
             Of ballads, songs and snatches,
               And dreamy lullaby!

As stock-in-trade of minstrelsy he can supply sentimental songs, lady-charming songs, patriotic songs, war-songs, sea-chanteys (perfectly British), in fact anything a noble lord might ask. Thus he becomes at once a most popular fellow with the gentle lords of Titipu. As for his business with Yum-Yum, Nanki-Poo explains that he fell in love with her when Ko-Ko was nothing but a cheap tailor. Having heard that Ko-Ko was condemned to death for flirting, which is the only crime punishable in Titipu by death, Nanki-Poo has returned to find her and propose again the marriage that Ko-Ko, when he was free, had opposed. But the cheap tailor is no longer condemned to death. There was consternation in Titipu when the law against flirting first went into effect. Nobody wished to be beheaded, especially for so natural an act. Hence Ko-Ko was taken out of his death cell and made executioner, on the theory that he could not very well chop off anyone else's head until he had first justified matters by cutting off his own. Nanki-Poo is impressed with the clarity of the logic of this explanation, given by Pish-Tush. Pooh-B ah completes the tale by explaining that since the noblemen refused to continue their civic service under a Lord High Executioner who came from such a lowly position, they had all resigned in a body. This caused a serious situation to develop in the administration of the town, but fortunately Pooh-BTh humbled himself and took all their jobs upon himself-together with their salaries. Besides being First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chief Justice, and so forth, Pooh-Bah is also a private retailer of state secrets. A few well-directed hints take effect, and Nanki-Poo finally bribes him-a light enough insult for a man accustomed to hungering for heavier ones-for news of Yum-Yum. Yum-Yum, that very afternoon, is to marry her protector, the Lord High Executioner, Ko-Ko. Nanki-Poo, who has journeyed a whole month to see her again, has arrived just in time to witness the ceremony. The great man, the groom himself, his huge sword of office slashing the air over his shoulder, makes his formal appearance at last before the assembled lords of Titipo, just after Nanki-Poo leaves. He has come on business; marriage business. He wishes to discuss with Poob-Bah the arrangements for the celebration of the wedding, a celebration intended to last for one entire week. But first, in order to reinforce his official position with an impressive statement to the gentlemen who have gathered here, the Lord High Executioner describes the way he has arranged things for the maintenance of his official position.

    As some day it may happen that a victim mwst be found,
        I've got a little list-i've got a little list
            Of society offenders who might well he underground,
              And who never would be missed-who never would be missed!

Seeing that he has, indeed, made a sufficient impression upon the noblemen, Ko-Ko dismisses them and speaks about the wedding in private with Pooh-Bah, who advises him:

Of course, as First Lord of the Treasury, I could propose a special vote that would cover all expenses, if it were not that as Leader of the Opposition, it would be my duty to resist it, tooth and nail.
The question boils down to a simple matter of practicality. A person in such a powerful position as Pooh-Bah can be handled politically, but he must be insulted with a very considerable bribe. Ko-Ko concedes, and plans are made for the wedding. They go off together in order not to be noticed by the bride and her two companions, who are coming into the garden.

        Three little maids from school are we,
          Pert as a school-girl well can be,
            Filled to the brim with girlish glee,
              Three little maids from school!

Ko-Ko cannot bring himself to stay away from such a delicious bride-to-be. And ceremony itself demands that he come to greet her with a kiss. It is quite an ordeal for the girl. When it is at last over, Yum-Yum notices Nanki-Poo standing at one side of the garden. All three girls rush to him, overjoyed, during this sad moment before her marriage to Ko-Ko, to see Yum-Yum's handsome young lover again. Breathlessly they introduce him to Ko-Ko, but in all the confusion the Lord High Executioner has the intruder ushered away so that he may make a ceremony of introducing Pooh-B ah to the girls.
After all the formabties have been completed, Nanki-Poo at last finds Yum-Yum alone. The lovers confess to each other, Yum-Yum telling him that she is utterly miserable about marrying Ko-Ko, and Nanki-Poo telling her that he is slated for marriage with an unattractive lady, Katisha.
For he is really not just a second trombone in the Titipu Town Band, but actually the son of the Mikado of Japan and heir to the throne. He is disguised in order to avoid the connubial fate that has been decreed for him. The two lovers move closer to each other, but carefully, for the laws of Titipu are severe about flirting.

If it were not for the law, we should now be sitting side by side, like that. (Sits by her)
With our arms around each other's waist, like that. (Embracing her).

They go off and Ko-Ko enters, followed by Fooh-Bah and Pish-Tush. Ko-Ko has received a letter from the Mikado himself stating that the illustrious conqueror is about to pay a visit of state to the town of Titipu. Not only that, but he is also concerned about the lack of executions lately and demands that there be one forthwith. Obviously, as Pooh-Bah is quick to point out, the ex-tailor already sentenced is available to satisfy the Mikado. But Ko-Ko objects. He appoints Pooh-Bah Lord High Substitute, but this flattering honor is respectfully declined.
By the purest and most convenient chance, Ko-Ko passes Nanki-Poo, who has left Yum-Yum in despair and is carrying a rope with which to hang himself rather than see his love sacrfficed to Ko-Ko's new social position. Here is a substitute ready made. An agreement is reached in a trice. Nanki-Poo will marry Yum-Yum and keep her for one month, after which he will be beheaded. A capital solution for all the problems. It makes everyone happy: the two lovers may have each other, Ko-Ko may have his marriage later, and Titipu will have an execution to present in honor of the Mikado's visit.

This toast with three times three we'll give- 'Long life to you-till then!"

Everything would have proceeded smoothly had not Katisha come, having discovered where the son of the Mikado hides from her. She intends to claim Nanki-Poo as her own, but her shouting that he is not, as he claims, a second trombone is drowned out by the citizens.


Happily having her hair dressed as she sits in the courtyard of the Lord High Executioner's official residence, Yum-Yum listens to a little song and wonders modestly how it came to be that she is so exceedingly beautiful. It must be admitted that she is, for she is a child of Nature. Such a realization cannot be misconstrued as vanity; she sings:

 The sun whose rays
              Are all ablaze
                With ever-living glory,
                  Does not deny
                    His majesty-
                      He scorns to tell a story!

All is unutterably perfect except for the fact that her new husband is scheduled for demolition after one short month. He comes, himself, to prove that a month of bliss is bliss for all eternity. But they &e in tears, trying to smile, as they sing a meny, mournful madrigal.

           Brightly dawns our wedding day;
             Joyous hour, we give thee greeting!
               Whither, whither art thou fleeting?

Ko-Ko, passing by, stops a moment to gaze upon this amorous scene. He begs them to kiss in his presence so that he can hegin to get used to it: it is torture for him. His tears, however, seem a bit wetter than the situation would warrant. They ask him what may be the matter. He is forced to explain that he has just ascertained that there is a law on the hooks requiring a beheaded man's wife to be buried alive. To the delicate Yum-Yum, being buried alive seems a bit of a stuffy proposition. The marriage must be called off. Nanki-Poo, therefore, plans to commit suicide immediately as he had originafly intended. Ko-Ko will not allow this. The man is legally doomed to decapitation, and he must be alive for the ceremony. Ko-Ko insists, hut Nanki-Poo is just as adamant. They reach an impasse. The Lord High Executioner wins, finally, by a ruse. Sending Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum away, he has Pooh-Bah, exercising all his offices, draw up a document saying that Nanki-Poo has already been executed according to form. This brilliant notion comes just in time, for the Mikado, with his tremendous entourage, has just entered the gates of Titipu to the words and tune of a Japanese Army march:

           Miya same, miya sama
             On n'm-ma no maye' ni
               Pira-Pira suru no we
                 Nan gie na
                    Toko ton yare na?

It has been a long time since the Emperor of Japan has honored the little town of Titipu with a visit of state. The Mikado takes the occasion to explain his attitude and to outline his program for the control of crime by making punishment, in all cases, appropriate.

                My object all sublime
                I shall achieve in time-
                To let the punishment fit the crime-
                The punishment fit the crime;
                And make each prisoner pent
                Unwillingly represent
                A source of innocent merriment!
                Of innocent merriment!

It becomes evident, even to the dullest municipal mind, that the subject of punishment for crime is high on the list of things this Mikado really cares about. To satisfy this as quickly as possible Ko-Ko welcomes the Emperor and hands him a certificate, witnessed by every Lord in office (Pooh-Bah), of the summary execution of a certain criminal. The Mikado desires a more detailed description of the event.

        In a state of wild alarm-
        The criminal cried, as he dropped him down,
        With a frightful, frantic, fearful frown,
        I bared my big right arm.

The Emperor is well pleased. But there is another matter that he would like to discuss. His own son, heir to the throne of Japan, and engaged to the lady Katisha, is missing. Does anyone in Titipu know anything about him? His name is Nanki-Poo.
Ko-Ko is flustered. He has just begun to fabricate a statement that may cover their guilty tracks, when Katisha shrieks that she has read the name of the supposed cnminal who was beheaded-Nanki-Poo. This is very embarrassing. The Mikado is not a bit angry; after all, the town officials thought they were performing their duty. But of course there is a punishinent for every crime...

Their execution is scheduled immediately after lunch. Obviously, Nanki-Poo must be brought back to life. But his bags are all packed. He does not want to change his plans now. And when he hears that Katisha and his father have come in person, he is even more determined not to revive-unless Ko-Ko can get him out of Katisha's mind somehow, perhaps by marrying her himself. Reluctantly the little extailor shuffles into the presence, in the garden, of the ferocious, but miserably sad Katisha, who weeps alone. Biting his lip he attacks boldly, saying:

Katisha, for years I have loved you with a white-hot passion that is slowly but surely consuming my very vitals!

Little effect. The deeply wronged lady points out that no one ever died of a broken heart. This is the cue Ko-Ko needs. He sings:

      On a tree by a river a little tom-tit
       Sang "Willow, titwillow, titwillow."

And the song tells how the little bird refused to say why he sang so sadly, but suddenly flew down into the water and died of his grief. This, surely, is proof enough of the seriousness of blighted love. And indeed it is enough proof for Katisha, who, in tears, agrees to accept the love of little Ko-Ko.
Lunch is done. The Mikado is ready for the afternoon's deadly entertainment. Katisha aproaches the imperial presence to beg mercy for all three culprits: Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and Pitti-Sing. After all, Ko-Ko is now her husband in place of Nanki-Poo. The Mikado thinks this over for a moment. As he ponders, Nauki-Poo suddenly makes an appearance with his new wife, Yum-Yum. Explanations, especially to the outraged Katisha, are definitely in order. Ko-Ko is equal to the task:

When your Majesty says, "Let a thing be done," it's as good as done,- practically, it is done-because your Ma fast y's will is law. Your Majesty says, "Kill a gentleman," and a gentleman is told off to be killed. Consequently, that gentleman is as good as dead-practically, he is dead and if he is dead, why not say so?

This unarguable logic, at once flattering to the mind and to the intellect of the Emperor of Japan, satisfies that most important person. The visit of state ends in a gloriously happy finale:

POT, he's gone and married Yum-Yum
             Your anger pray bury,
              Fo' all will be merry,
               I think you had better succumb-
                 And join our expressions of glee!
The End

All images are freebies from Lycos Gallery:

1. Celebrities Pose; Toyokuni, Utagawa
2. Ichikawa Danjuro IV; Actor Ichikawa Danjuro IV in a Role in the kaomise Play Saka; Shunsho, Katsukawa
3. Actor Print; Utagawa Kunisada
4. [Mikado 5] Seki Sanjuro; Utagawa Kunisada
5. [Mikado 9] Two Celebrities; Celebrities Nakajima Wadaemon and Nakamara Konozo, Sharaku, Toshusai
6. Hanaoka; The Prostitute Hanaoka Holding a Poem; Eisen, Keisai
7. Actor Onoe Matsusuke in his Dressing Room with his Dresser, Shunko, Katsukawa
8. Actor Otani Oniki, Sharaku, Toshusai

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