One of the major art forms of Japan, the Kabuki play evolved from the older Noh Theater, in which elaborately costumed performers, nowadays men only, use stylized movements, makeup, dances, and songs in order to enact tragedies and comedies.

I will quote from liveforever for the meaning of Kabuki, as he sent me a definition I couldn't paraphrase better. "Re: Kabuki, kao (w)o tsukuru", in fact, literally does mean "making a face" - the verb "tsukuru" is the same one you use when preparing a meal or carving a figure out of wood, or any other process of physical creation." (Thank you, liveforever.) Unlike the western dramatic goal, which (in most cases) is to portray a realistic life picture, kabuki differs mostly in that it has no pretenses of being a realistic portrayal. Only one character speaks at a time, and all actors face the audience when speaking, even in intimate conversations.

The main themes include both tales of war and of psychological conflict. Its most widely known characteristic is its use of men for all roles in the play, although this has not always been the case. The theatre form went through a few stages - there was onna kabuki, in which women danced provocatively; then wakashuu kabuki, where young men replaced the women; then yaroo kabuki, which was performed by older men and viewed as the most artistic.

Some key ingredients...

Dances are usually done solo, and are again different than the western counterpart. It's considered inartistic to synchronize your dancing exactly with the music.

The actors refer to the application of makeup as kao o tsukuru - making a face. The traditional "look" of kabuki results from social standards and defintions of beauty. The face is powdered white, symbolizing delicate skin. The lips are painted into a "strawberry" because this small pucker-mouth is a symbol of refinement. The most common make-up pattern is basically coloured lines around the face, usually following the facial structure, and more pronounced in dramatic or supernatural characters. The colours each have their own unique significance.

Costumes in Kabuki are usually extravagant and complicated. They were used to attract wealthy patrons to the theatre. The costumes were works of creative genius for many reasons, including the fact that there were strict laws about the allowance of certain materials and fabrics to be worn.

A fascinating art form which, like other art forms, had a close relationship with social movements in it's development. Japanese fashion was highly influenced by the theater. As well, the conclusions reached in kabuki plays are reflective of the general code of ethics at the time of kabuki's development.

I learned about some of the different forms and themes at:
I learned about some of the characteristics, etc. at this really good site (go here to learn lots more!):