Au­thor’s re­turn n

Di­rec­tor brings work of Lao She to stage againn

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By CHEN­NAN

A loyal fan of Lao She (18991966), one of China’s most sig­nif­i­cant au­thors, Chi­nese di­rec­tor and ac­tor Fang Xu is back with an­other stage pro­duc­tion, Mr Ma and Son, based on the novel with the same ti­tle.

The play will de­but at Cap­i­tal Theater on Nov 16 and 17, and then travel to Shang­hai for stag­ings on Dec 3 and 4. Fang has pre­vi­ously adapted three other Lao She works into plays.

Mr Ma and Son draws largely on Lao She’ s own ex­pe­ri­ence when he taught Man­darin classes at the Univer­sity of London from 1924 to 1929.

The novel gives a unique view of what life was like for Chi­nese peo­ple in 1920s London by telling the story of Mr Ma and his son Ma Wei, who run an an­tiques shop nes­tled in a quiet street by St Paul’s Cathe­dral. Far from their na­tive Beijing, they strug­gle to adapt into the Western so­ci­ety of the 1920s. The fa­ther and son also ex­pe­ri­ence un­ex­pected love af­fairs with their land­lord Mrs Wed der burn and her daugh­ter Mary.

Lao She, whose orig­i­nal name was Shu Qingchun, is known for his style grounded in the di­alect and cul­ture of old Beijing. His best-known works, such as Tea­house and Rick­shaw Boy, have been adapted into movies, TV se­ries and plays in China and have been read in translation around the world.

Mr Ma and Son was adapted as a TV drama in 1999, star­ring renowned Chi­nese ac­tors Chen Daom­ing and Liang Guan­hua.

It was pub­lished in English by Pen­guin Clas­sics in 2013.

“Though it is about over­seas Chi­nese in the 1920s, a cen­tury later it still ap­peals to con­tem­po­rary read­ers and con­nects with peo­ple. There are lots of Chi­nese peo­ple liv­ing abroad, who share the same strug­gles. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween fa­ther and son also res­onates with the au­di­ences,” says Fang, who is the di­rec­tor, scriptwriter and plays the role of Mr Ma in the play.

The cast mem­bers are all male ac­tors, in­clud­ing Liu Xin­ran, a Pek­ing Opera ac­tor known for nan dan (men play­ing women’s roles), as Mrs Wedderburn.

“The play will have a sur­pris­ing chem­istry with the all­male cast. It will leave space for the au­di­ences to imag­ine,” Fang says.

The stage will be dom­i­nated by a huge news­pa­per, which the di­rec­tor says is a sym­bol of Lon­doni n the 1920s. Fang also in­vited a band to per­form live on­stage.

“Mu­sic serves as a char­ac­ter along with the other ac­tors,” he says.

The 50-year-old grad­u­ated

The char­ac­ters in his works re­mind me of my neigh­bors in the hu­tong when I was a child,” Fang Xu, di­rec­tor and ac­tor

from the di­rect­ing depart­ment of the Cen­tral Academy of Drama. A Beijing na­tive who spent his youth in a court­yard of a pop­u­lated hu­tong area, he feels con­nected to Lao She’s sto­ries.

“The char­ac­ters in his works re­mind me of my neigh­bors in the hu­tong when I was a child. They are so or­di­nary, vivid and real — fas­ci­nat­ing to me,” he says.

In 2012, he per­formed in one of ac­claimed di­rec­tor Lin Zhao­hua’s plays, Five Acts of Life. It was a com­bi­na­tion of five short sto­ries by Lao She and de­picted both the tragedy and com­edy in or­di­nary peo­ple’s lives in early 1900s Beijing.

The same year, Fang started his own adap­tion of Lao She’s works. His first at­tempt, a one­man show ver­sion of The Life of Mine, tells the sad story of a low-rank­ing po­lice­man in Beijing in the early 20th cen­tury. It was a big suc­cess when it pre­miered at the theater of the Cen­tral Academy of Drama.

Then Fang adapted Lao She’s other two nov­els, Divorce and Cat Coun­try, into plays.

“Fang spent years read­ing Lao She’s works and delv­ing into those char­ac­ters,” says the novelist’s 83-year-old daugh­ter, Shu Ji. “I hope he can have his own theater com­pany and venue and keep adapt­ing Lao She’s works.”

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Fang Xu por­trays dif­fer­ent roles in his adap­tions of Lao She’s works.

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