Huichang’s Lai re­turns home to liven up theater scene

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By ADAMHEGARTY andWANG QINGYUN Con­tact the writ­ers through wangqingyun@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Like many of my works, this one also came out of nowhere.”

Nes­tled be­tween the busy and nar­row streets of down­town Huichang, the county’s sole theater is an unas­sum­ing venue.

Its mod­est doors strug­gle to stand out in the con­crete jun­gle, of­fer­ing lit­tle clue as to the qual­ity hid­den in­side.

The au­di­ence quickly fills the three-story 1,000-seat Theater of Huichang County, in East China’s Jiangxi prov­ince. They don’t know what to ex­pect — fe­whave seen any­thing sim­i­lar to the un­fold­ing play.

“I am es­pe­cially pleased that Icame­to­my­home­townto per­form my play,” legendary play­wright Stan Lai told the crowd on Fri­day night, af­ter his open­ing show for the Huichang tourism and cul­ture fes­ti­val.

His play, Se­cret Love in Peach Blos­som Land, has been re­ceived­with­crit­i­calac­claim­for three decades, and was sched­uled to be staged in the county for three con­sec­u­tive days.

It’s hardly a fit­ting scene for a pro­duc­tion from one ofAsia’s great­est play­wrights. But Lai, also a world-renowned di­rec­tor, wouldn’t be any­where else.

“It’s ab­so­lutely amaz­ing to per­form here,” he tells China Daily.

“It’s a place that would never see theater like this ... never see the same level of theater you can see in Bei­jing or Shang­hai.

“And tour­ing groups like ours would never come here. Not a pos­si­bil­ity ever. “Ex­cept for us,” he adds. The rea­son is sim­ple. Lai’s fa­ther was a Huichang na­tive be­fore leav­ing the county in 1947 to work as a diplo­mat in the United States. Lai was born in Wash­ing­ton, and his fa­ther never re­turned to his home­town.

He’s still amazed his fa­ther man­aged to learn per­fect English and be­come a scholar, emerg­ing from the con­fines of a county in which a lot of peo­ple are still poor.

“I al­ways wanted to do some­thing for my fa­ther’s home­town and so to me this is sort of like a says Lai.

He wants to stage an an­nual show in­Huichang.

“It has be­come a lit­tle mis­sion for me to stage plays in Huichang,” says Lai, who lived in the US un­til he was 12.

“I’m see­ing what’s go­ing to hap­pen to this town af­ter five years of con­stant theater com­ing so­cial ex­per­i­ment,” from me.”

Lai says he was work­ing on plans to make the county thrive as the “drama cap­i­tal of Jiangxi”.

“I’m sure there’s go­ing to be a def­i­nite change and a def­i­nite ad­van­tage this town will have over thou­sands of other towns like it in China.”

The play tells the story of two theater troupes hav­ing to share one stage for re­hearsals — a tragic love story called Se­cret Love and a farce called In Peach Blos­som Land.

The stark com­par­i­son be­tween the two re­hearsals even­tu­ally dis­ap­pears, as the two per­for­mances end up in a per­fect con­cord. It’s long­beena touch­ing jour­ney for the au­di­ence, while the comedic part of the play has al­most al­ways man­aged to drawlaugh­ter.

The same can’t be said, though, for the first play Lai brought to Huichang, dur­ing last year’s fes­ti­val.

Such was his com­mit­ment to teach­ing lo­cals about theater, he asked staff mem­bers to make sure phones did not ring in the au­di­ence dur­ing cru­cial mo­ments in his play, Me­nage a 13.

“What hap­pened was the theater went ahead and put in some very strin­gent reg­u­la­tions and it turned out that no one dared laugh at the com­edy,” Lai says, with some laugh­ter of his own.

“Af­ter the first night, I said, well, this was a strange per­for­mance.

“I asked them what hap­pened. They said, ‘Oh, we thought it was great’. And I said, but no one laughed at all!

“There’s a theater cul­ture that has to be cul­ti­vated.”

Speak­ing on the eve of this year’s first per­for­mance, Lai says the play likely served as a good in­tro­duc­tion to theater for peo­ple in the county who were less ex­posed to mod­ern per­form­ing art.

The en­deavor seemed to be a suc­cess.Lai’scur­tain­callafterthe two-hour play at­tracted a loud ap­plause­fromthe au­di­ence.

The di­rec­tor told the au­di­ence af­ter the per­for­mance: “I hope you will en­joy our plays, year af­ter year.”

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Lin Hwai-min, chore­og­ra­pher

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Tai­wan-based play­wright Stan Lai’s Se­cretLoveinPeachBlos­som Land is staged in Huichang county, Jiangxi prov­ince.

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