Off-Broadway Review: THE HUNTING GUN (Baryshnikov Arts Center)

Post image for Off-Broadway Review: THE HUNTING GUN (Baryshnikov Arts Center)

by Dmitry Zvonkov on March 18, 2023

in Theater-New York


Coming out of the Baryshnikov Arts Center after watching its current offering The Hunting Gun, I overheard a woman ask her husband what he thought of the show. Good, but long, he said, which pretty much mirrored my reaction to this mostly Japanese-language production based on the novella by Yasushi Inoue.

Adapted for the stage by Serge Lamothe and capably directed by François Girard, the show begins with the disembodied voice of a narrator telling us that once, when he was on an outing at a hunting preserve, his attention was drawn to a man he saw walking ahead of him. The man was accompanied by a black-and-white dog and carried an English hunting gun. The narrator followed this man for a while and later wrote a poem about him, which he published in a hunting magazine. Months after, the poet received a letter from the hunter, who said that he’d recognized himself in the poem. The hunter confided that he was moved by the poem and that, contrary to his nature, he wanted the poet to understand him. To that end the hunter mailed to the poet three letters he’d received just after his mistress’s death, letters he asked the poet to read and then burn.

These letters, the first from his mistress’s daughter, the second from the hunter’s own wife, and the third from his mistress herself, are the crux of the play. Their lyrical texts are projected in green Japanese characters onto a transparent background towards the rear of the stage and are performed by the excellent Miki Nakatani, who in turn embodies each of the three women. Behind the projected letters (and the English supertitles) sits the hunter (Mikhail Baryshnikov) cleaning his gun.

Wrapped in the darkness of David Finn’s subtle lighting design, with Alexander MacSween’s tragic, foreboding score, the production boasts a weighty atmosphere that draws one in and lingers inside after the performance ends. Especially clever is the floor of François Séguin’s spare but effective set, which transforms with each new letter — from a pond with lilies, to a garden of smooth stones, to the hardwood floor of a house, just as Ms. Nakatani seamlessly changes costumes (by Renée April) from schoolgirl outfit to sultry red dress to white kimono, all transformations which serve well to compliment Ms. Nakatani’s startling emotional metamorphoses.

The problem is that for all its striking mood, minimalist elegance and melodramatic stories, the show feels long and heavy and undramatic. The writing offers up some valuable nuggets but overall too many beautiful words are used to describe too little, and there is a deadening lack of urgency to the whole thing. That said, perhaps The Hunting Gun is intended to be more meditation than play, a ceremony rather than something compelling, like a contemplative piece of music whose lack of conflict and drive is part of the point.

photos by Pasha Antonov, Stephanie Berger Maria Baranova

The Hunting Gun
presented by Emanuela Barilla
Baryshnikov Arts Center, Jerome Robbins Theater, 450 W. 37th St
Tues-Sat at 7:30, Sun at 2; ends on April 15, 2023
for tickets ($35 to $150), visit The Hunting Gun

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Christopher Pelham March 19, 2023 at 5:46 pm

I found the production highly compelling and, at 90 minutes, not overly long. Yes, it is meditative, but the meditations are rich, and they are richly brought to life and invite us to imagine the actions of the past being recalled. Together, these three letters communicate to the man how his affair has ultimately resulted in his loss of all three women. Yes, there are a lot of words. They serve to excavate with exquisite precision the sense of injury, loss, fury, sadness, satisfaction, etc. that each of the women has experienced. Nakatani is consummately in control of all of them, her performance as each of these women spellbinding physically, vocally, emotionally. And Baryshnikov communicates so much solely through his physicality. In conclusion, I think this production is an absolute must see!


DMITRY ZVONKOV March 22, 2023 at 8:41 am

Thank you Mr. Pelham for your comment.


Leave a Comment