Directed by John Malpede, the production is a duet for the Akira Kurosawa film Red Beard and live performers. The 1965 film’s harsh depiction of the dynamics of extreme poverty resonates today in urban America. The film and the performance explore the question: How to reverse the cycle of hurt and victimization. “The film makes me think of Simone Weil,” says Malpede, “who wrote a one-line history of the world when she said something like, ‘when my migraines were raging, I wanted to punch someone else in the head –just to let them know how I was feeling.’ In Red Beard Kurosawa envisions a dynamic in which degradation is transformed into something positive, rather than becoming frozen as bitterness.” LAPD performers comprise one or multiple casts that perform simultaneously for intimate audiences. The film is shown in Japanese without subtitles on a 32-inch television, and the players sit in on either side and perform the text “oratorio” style. Often they enact scenes in counterpoint to the film and at other points they perform as a chorus, and use gesture to foreshadow, refer back to and otherwise amplify emotionally significant moments.
Initially, the production had one cast and was performed at the Courtland hotel on Skid Row. In 2008 Theatre 2Gennevilliers invited LAPD to create the performance for it’s opening year with four casts of 10 performers, each performing simultaneously for intimate audiences, with three casts performing in French and one in English. In 2015, Los Angeles Poverty Department celebrated it’s 30 year anniversary by re-creating Red Beard, Red Beard with two casts in honor of HIGHWAYS’ 25th anniversary.