“Rich in drama,” according to Jeffrey Borak, arts editor of the Berkshire Eagle. “Playful and heartbreaking, fragile and indomitable” said one viewer of Morgan O-Yuki: The Geisha of the Gilded Age, when the play had its world premiere on June 30, 2006 at Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum. The play was presented in cooperation with Shakespeare & Company.
In answer to the many requests and inquiries about the unusual story, Ventfort Hall will present the film made by Kevin Sprague, creative director and owner of Studio Two, during the opening performance thirteen years ago. The film will be shown on Saturday, February 23 at 3:30 pm followed by a Victorian tea.
Morgan O-Yuki: The Geisha of the Gilded Age is based on a true story of a renowned Japanese Kyoto Geisha and her intriguing connection to Ventfort Hall’s history. Written by playwright Natsuko Ohama as an original piece expressly for the 2006 production and for the 2013 revival, the title role was originally performed by actress Ikuko Ikari, who had studied at the HB Studio and the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute. The one-woman show was directed by Shakespeare & Company’s Sarah Taylor. The set was created by theater and movie set designer Carl Sprague.
The Morgan O-Yuki story begins with the discovery of this little-known, at least in America, figure who, at the advent of the 20th century, entered into the lives of the Morgans, members of New York’s most prominent and wealthy elite.
Over several years of research, Ventfort Hall’s resident historian, the late Joan Olshansky, discovered these facts: George Denison Morgan, born in 1870, was the son of Ventfort Hall owners George Hale Morgan and Sarah Spencer Morgan, sister of financier J. Pierpont Morgan.
Soon after the death of Sarah in 1896, the New York newspapers announced the engagement of George Denison to Margaret Auchmuty Mackay, member of another prominent New York family, who also summered in Lenox. Three weeks later, the engagement was called off because the press had gotten word that George was seeing another young lady on intimate terms.
We move ahead to 1902 when George arrives in Japan, where he spends time visiting the geisha houses. Here he meets Yuki (“Snow Fragrance”) Kato. George became infatuated with her and asked Yuki—many times–to marry him and she refused him each time. When he was about to leave Japan, George left a self-addressed, stamped envelope with Yuki, hoping she would eventually change her mind.
Through all of this, Yuki was seeing a young Japanese law student, who, within a year, left her to marry the daughter of a wealthy Japanese family. Yuki wrote George a letter and mailed it in the envelope he had left behind. The couple married on January 21, 1904, in Yokohama. Following tradition, he settled an allowance on her parents and bought Yuki out of her geisha contract for $20,000.
As soon as George brought his bride to New York to meet his family, the couple discovered that Yuki was not to be fully welcomed, except for his sister, Caroline. Eventually, George and Yuki made Paris their permanent home.
There is evidence that George continued his philandering ways throughout the marriage. Josefa Ruiz was suing him for a large sum of Morgan money in 1915, at the time of George’s death. Alice Palmer listed herself in the New York City Directory as the “widow of George.” Through these years, Yuki continued to receive funds from Caroline Morgan and from the lawyer hired to handle George’s estate.
Having lived in France for more than 30 years, Yuki returned to Japan in 1938 at a time when her native country was at war with China and before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. During World War II, the Morgans could no longer send Yuki money and Caroline died in 1942. Despite wartime deprivations, no income and ill health, Yuki adopted a daughter, Namie, who looked after her.
With the conclusion of the war in 1945, Yuki renewed her French interest in Catholicism, particularly St. Theresa, and became involved with the building of the Kinugasa Catholic Church in Kyoto. In 1958 both Namie and Yuki, at age 76, were baptized, the latter taking the name of Theresa. By this time the Morgans had revived their financial support of Yuki. She died on May 18, 1963, and was buried in Kyoto as Theresa Yuki Morgan.
In 1951, her extraordinary life became the subject of a musical in Japan, later a biography, a novel, and finally, a play at Ventfort Hall, where George Denison Morgan once lived.
Cost to attend is $26 for advance reservations and $32 day of the event. Reservations are highly recommended as attendance is limited. For reservations call us at 413-637-3206.