Huichang’s Lai returns home to liven up theater scene
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
Taiwan-based playwright Stan Lai’s SecretLoveinPeachBlossom Land is staged in Huichang county, Jiangxi province.