According to Zbigniew Brzezinski, one doesn't necessarily have to visit the Kennedy Center or even Japan to witness the intrigue of Kabuki drama--but it does help to hold high office.

"I've seen a lot of Kabuki practiced in White House Cabinet meetings--a lot of charade and comedy and . . . uh, subtle moves," said the former national security adviser during an intermission at last night's opening performance of the Grand Kubuki at the Kennedy Center.

Could Brzezinski elaborate a bit? Who were the best actors?

He smiled, headed for the third act and said, "I won't go any further."

Japanese Ambassador Yoshio Okawara was "thrilled" with last night's performance and audience. "The audience here is very enthusiastic," he said. "They even knew when to laugh and they applauded even more loudly than the Japanese." Luckily for many audience members, simultaneous-translation headphones were available in the lobby (though they are said to be unavailable in White House Cabinet meetings).

The audience was filled with luminaries, even a few congressmen, but the real star of the evening, and the only one to draw a horde of autograph-seekers at a postperformance reception at the Kennedy Center's Atrium, was Tamasaburo, the 32-year-old Kabuki star who, according to Peter Grilli, director of education for the Japan Society, "has brought a whole new, younger audience to Kabuki in Japan." Kanzaburo, an actor who has been declared a Living National Treasure by the Japanese government, was able to slide past the fans near the hors d'oeuvres and find a well-deserved glass of water.

Congressmen and embassy officials stood chatting among themselves or nibbling on scallops or quiche or cookies, and not a word was said about the show's 3 1/2-hour duration. Over by the coffee table, flashbulbs went off in Tamasaburo's face. He stood unperturbed, signing programs and calmly accepting the domo's (thanks) of a stream of well-wishers in the crowd of a few hundred.

Tamasaburo plays onnagata roles--that is, he usually plays the part of a woman. "The audience reaction to a man in a female role is really no different here than it is in Japan," he said. "After all, female impersonation is nothing new on the Western stage. It happens in Shakespeare and in Greek drama and it is there with the castrati in opera. So it is really not a surprising thing."

Tamasaburo is well-known in Japan not only for his proficiency as an actor and his dedication to the Kabuki theater, but also for his opulent life style. He says he's "just an ordinary person," yet he is driven from home to the Kabuki-za theater in Tokyo in a Cadillac limo--about as common a sight in Tokyo as water buffalo in Monaco.

"Well," says a smiling Tamasaburo, "the reason I ride the Cadillac is not for status, it's just a very safe car. There are a lot of accidents in Tokyo, so I prefer it."

Yuko Kodaka, from Tokyo, came away from the crowd around Tamasaburo with an autograph and a smile from the actor.

Could she compare Tamasaburo to any Western stars?

"Oh, yes. Rudolf Nureyev."