Play about former soldier set to return to Beijing
Ku Pao-ming recallshowhis family celebrated Spring Festival when he was a child.
His father would cook many delicious dishes and they would sit around the dining table remembering their ancestors. During mealtime on the eve of Chinese New Year, he would listen to his father’s stories about their family, who lived in Shanghai before moving to Taiwan.
Ku’s father was a Kuomintang soldier, who — along with thousands from the Nationalist force — retreated to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of the civil war.
As he grew up, Ku, now 66, realized that the stories his father told him were a result of being away from home for long.
So when the actor was asked by the Taiwan Godot Theater Company in 2015 if he could play the role of Zhao Guozhong, a war veteran who left Shandong province for Taiwan, in the company’s stage drama Jie Song Qing, Ku readily agreed.
After its successful debut in April in Beijing, the drama, which is called Driving Miss Xu in English, is set to return to the city onNov 11.
As an actor, Ku likes to play different roles because they enable him to “experience different lives”, Ku says. “I’m familiar with the role in Driving MissXu and it feels personal and connected.”
He was born in Taipei and grew up among military dependents, a community in Taiwan that was built after 1949 to house the former Kuomintang soldiers.
When Taiwan’s contemporary theater scene was forming in the early 1980s, Ku opened the Lan Lin Theater with friends such as veteran actor Chin Shih-chieh.
Boss Yuan, a leading man in the play Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land, by Taipei-based director Stan Lai, is among Ku’s major roles. The play was performed in 1986 and is still staged.
When his father was alive, he wished to return to the mainland to reunite with friends — something that the main character from Jie Song Qing also wants to do.
While Ku’s parents went to Taiwan together, Zhao Guozhong is separated from his family in the play, which shows him as the driver of a doctor who saved him. He develops a close relationship with the doctor’s daughter, Xu Baihe, and witnesses her sufferings from losing her father to being betrayed by her husband.
“I like the portrayal of long-lasting relationships in the play, which is simple but powerful,” Ku says. “Though Zhao Guozhong and Xu Baihe are not husbandandwife, the emotions between them is beyond that.”
Taipei-based actress Lang Tsuyun plays the role of Xu. Both Ku and Lang have built a performance reputation with TV dramas, movies and stage plays. Like Ku she was drawn to the play due to a personal connection.
“I remember on Mother’s Day lots of elderly people joined ... a parade. They wore T-shirts, which had printed words like ‘going home’. My father was one of them,” says Lang, 51, referring to 1987, when former Kuomintang soldiers were allowed to visit the mainland for the first time after the founding of NewChina.
In1988, Lang and her father visited Nanjing in Jiangsu province.
“The moment my father saw his mother he knelt down and cried like a child. I understood how badly my father wanted to go home,” says Lang.
In the play, the driver also received a letter from his wife in Shandong province in 1987. But after decades, the couple barely recognized each other when they finally met. The last thing he remembers is a pancake his wife made for him before he left for Taiwan.
“His wife brings him pancake when they meet again, and Zhao cries. This scene touchesmy heart,” says Ku.
Taiwan Godot Theater Company’s founder, Liang Chih-min, is the director of the play. Founded in 1988, the company has produced more than 30 contemporary plays, including Kiss Me Nana and The Angel Never Sleeps.
“This is the first production of our company that deals with the subject of the soldiers,” Liang says.
“These people and their homesickness should be remembered.”
The theater production JieSongQing, starring Ku Pao-ming (left) and Lang Tsu-yun, revolves around connections across the Taiwan Straits.