Two plays have been identified for this design, both featuring Tomijûrô II in the role of Masaoka. The earlier drama (cited in OSP reference below) was Date sugata wagatsuma utsushi-e (A true picture of the Date clan in Azuma: 伊達姿吾妻寫繪) in 7/1836 at the Kita-Shinshi Theater, Osaka. The later play was Chiyo no haru hagi no wakabae (Youthful glory among the bush clover at Sendai: 先代萩若榮) at the Kado Theater, Osaka in 1/1839. The second drama, which we accept as the more likely production associated with Sadamasu's design, had a script similar to Meiboku Sendai hagi (Sandalwood and bush clover of Sendai: 伽羅 先代萩: 先代萩若榮).
Meiboku Sendai hagi dramatized the intriques over succession within the Date clan of Sendai during the third quarter of the seventeenth century. It was performed in an alternate sekai ("world" or theatrical setting: 世界), set back in time during the Onin civil war under the Ashikaga shogunate of the fifteenth century (Ashikaga thus becomes a theatrical substitute for the Date clan name). It is a classic play, so popular that during the Edo period it had at least one performance nearly every year since its premiere in 1777. The fictionalized central story involved Lord Ashikaga Yorikane's (足利頼錦) forays into the pleasure quarter and his murder of the courtesan Takao (高尾). This episode is an amplification of an actual incident in which the twenty-one-year-old clan leader Date Tsunamune became the lover of the Yoshiwara courtesan Takao, causing a scandal that led to his downfall. Another story line involves Nikki Danjô (Yorikane's evil nephew who possessed supernatural powers and could transform himself into a rat), the orchestrator of a conspiracy to overthrow Yorikane. When the intrigue fails, Nikki is slain.
As for Masaoka, she takes charge of Tsuruchiyo, the young heir of Yorikane and clan leader once his father is forced to retire. Masaoka is falsely accused of plotting against Tsuruchiyo, but the perpetrator of the subtefuge, Nikki Danjô's sister Yashio, is foiled in her evil plan. Meanwhile, Masaoka has trained her young son, Senmatsu, to taste Tsuruchiyo's food as a precaution against poisoning. Yashio, still intent on succeeding in her plot to murder Tsuruchiyo, arranges for Sakae Gozen, wife of a colluding warrior-retainer, to deliver poisoned cakes to the young lord. Rushing toward the sweets, Senmatsu, who is disguised as Tsuruchiyo, is the first to eat the cake (as he was supposed to do) and immediately realizes he is ill. Yashio then stabs him to death, claiming that his "rude behavior" has been justly punished. In a moment of extraordinary self-composure, and despite witnessing her son's murder, Masaoka expresses no emotion — a famous example in kabuki of giri (devotion to duty: 義理). This fools Sakae into believing Masaoka is sympathetic to the plotters' cause and that Tsuruchiyo was the victim. Having gained Sakae's trust, Masaoka is given a secret scroll naming all the conspirators. Once alone, Masaoka breaks down and weeps for her son, whereupon Yashio attacks her. Just as Masaoka stabs Yashio, a giant rat (Nikki Danjô in animal form) steals the scroll.
The role of Masaoka requires a wide range of expression and skill while enacting the struggle between between stoicism and open emotion. The concensus among kabuki specialists is that Masaoka is one of the finest onnagata ("women's manner": 女方 or 女形) roles in the kabuki repertory.
In this charming design, which belies the tragedy to come, Masaoka enages with the young lord Tsuruchiyo and her son Senmatsu, performed here by unnamed child actors. Tomijûrô's elegant robes are emblematic of this actor's overt fondness for opulance. In fact, Tomijûrô was a flamboyant stage personality who favored extravagant costumes and expensive accessories, which in the eyes of government censors amounted to living above one's station in life and a flagrant violation of sumptuary edicts. For failing to temper his love of excess, Tomijûrô II was banished in 1843 from Osaka to smaller stages in other parts of Kamigata (including Kyoto and Sakai), where he remained for nearly two years.
The poem is signed "Keishi" (慶子), Tomijûrô's haimyô (literary name: 俳名 or haigô 俳号).
This same impression is from the famed Haber Collection and is illustrated in Schwaab, Osaka Prints, p. 178, no. 177 (see OSP reference below). It is yet another example of the fine quality and state of preservation of the Haber collection.
Another impression is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (11.36006).
References: OSP, no. 177; KNP-6, pp. 325 and 388-389; Sadamasu web page