Here's how I remember the play Rashomon, Kay and Michael Fanin's adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's 1950 film, now in a highly stylized, if unbalanced, production by Luna Theater Company: I recall it less as a story of a samurai's murder and four witnesses' perspectives on the killing than as a play about sexual face-saving in its depiction of varying views of the rape that precedes the murder.
This stage version of Rashomon, while different in tone from Kurosawa's grim masterpiece, follows the same storyline: The bandit Tajomaru (Richard Chan) lures the samurai (Jeff Wu) into the woods, binds him, rapes his wife (Stephanie Walters), and flees. At some point, someone kills the samurai. The audience hears and then sees reenactments of the versions from all four witnesses, including a woodcutter (Wu, in dual roles) who stumbled upon the scene, and a medium (the excellent Ru Pujara), who channels the spirit of the dead warrior.
While it sounds (and is) very talky and full of exposition and direct narrative, Luna's 80-minute production relies on the talents of its outstanding design crew to bring these stories to life. Monica Chavez's lighting draws clear distinctions between truth and lies, real and supernatural, which Adam Vidiksis' sound accentuates with rainfall and the eerie echo of crickets in the cold countryside. Michael Long's video backdrops create a wide expanse of mountains, where rain dampens sunlight, and bamboo and cedars recede from view.
Rashomon's script overflows with poetry. Pujara excels in rendering it; only Walters equals her delivery. Chan is a bragging, boisterous bandit, but bores as the priest, and Wu brings little energy to either of his roles.
The Fanins' play adds humor to Kurosawa's bleak depiction, here accentuated by Pujara's over-the-top performance as the wigmaker and Michael Cosenza's intense, cartoonish sword fight choreography. A recurring argument among priest, wigmaker, and woodcutter provides commentary on who would gain from lying.
Gregory Scott Campbell's direction offers no easy inroad into the truth, sharply distinguishing each retelling in theatrical tone and style. But as the bandit remarks early, "Half the pleasure of taking a woman is talking about it after," and therein lies the rub that untangles the deception. Watch for it if you go.
Through April 11 at Luna Theater Company, 620 S. 8th St.
Information: 215-704-0033 or www.lunatheater.org.