Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I watched a play in Mandarin!

Had to go catch Theatre Practices' 'Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral' to see how the original production company envisioned this very difficult and abstract play that our own NYeDC produced a couple of Drama Nights back. For Mel and me, the biggest problem was that the whole play was staged in its original Mandarin instead of the English translation we were familiar with. We had to rely on the subtitles provided to get us through the night.

As best as I could figure, the set was the hold of a shipwreck from which ten survivors have to escape. They have no idea who they are or why they are there, only that some external force is playing some twisted games with them. In between survival games, the survivors entertain each other with their recollections of Zeng He, the Eunuch Admiral.

That they are stranded with nothing but the clothes on their backs is an excellent reason for them to rely on mime to help tell their stories. Hence, the stylized movement done with precision and care, simple, minimalistic and very clear. But that also was an odd thing because the publicity materials call this production a 'kinetic interpretation' but the visuals were mostly static. It was like pose - chunk of text - ensemble pose - more text - more posing - etc. As far as artistic direction went, it was more tableau than theatre.

It was a very well done tableau, though. The initial set was claustrophobic but opened up in various places to create new and surprising play spaces and levels. With the interaction of the performers, the beautifully coloured lighting design and a couple of other surprising effects that temporarily changed gravity and another that added a visual component to a change in weather conditions (trying to avoid spoilers here) it was like looking at a pretty talking picture book. Though we were totally reliant on reading subtitles, we didn't miss much action 'cos when we looked back at the stage it was usually the same image that we took our eyes off last.

This production wasn't much fun. The interpretation was deadly serious. If there was any attempt at humour, perhaps it was lost in the translation? But then the audience wasn't laughing either, so I guess not. Overall, an interesting visual experience, but impact was... meh. Not to make any comparisons, but suddenly I have the urge to dust off the video of our own performance and watch it again.

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