Sunday, June 14, 2009

Asian Theatre

Or perhaps, better said, Western Theatre Asianized.

Already, I have had the pleasure of seeing two plays in Singapore as a part of the Singapore Arts Festival that just concluded last night. Last week, my aunt took me to see Electra at the Victoria theatre. Well, it is not that often that you get to see a Greek tragedy put on by a professional troop, and it is even less often that you get to see a Greek Tragedy performed in Japanese (with English surtitles).

The director, Tadashi Suzuki took a very melancholy approach to his production of Electra-- even for a tragedy. In fact, the setting of the entire play took place in a mental asylum. The Greek chorus (featured above) was make up of mental patients in chairs, who wheeled around the stage in the most calculated movements which gradually grew into furious pow-wow of speeding chairs and shouts. All of this, to the rhythm of Japanese drums. This painful display of human helplessness, reflected the director's own dark world view. In the director's note he states, "All the world is a hospital and all men and women are inmates of that hospital." Though austere, I thought Suzuki's approach worked well for this tragedy-- centered around an incarcerated woman who fantasizes of impossible revenge. The effect was bone-chilling.

Though it was more challenging to follow the English surtitles while being engaged with what was taking place on stage, I thought seeing the play in Japanese actually gave it something-- something mysterious, otherworldly, even more severe. This was probably the best experience I have had thus far with Greek Tragedy. It was dark, eerie, and hopeless. . . in the best way.

The shimmering dome above is the Esplanade Theatre--Singapore's version of the Sydney Opera House. There, my Grandma and I attended Chekov's The Cherry Orchard in Chinese (again, with English surtitles).

Okay, it was much harder to follow Chekov's language in the surtitles-- the interuptions, indirections, and unconnected speech of his characters made my head spin as I read along. Thankfully, I read the play in English only hours before the performance, which helped me along. Once I got used to it, as long as I could tell what part of the play it was, I could focus on the action taking place on the stage. Still, I couldn't help but notice that we seemed to be the only Westerners there. The rest looked-- well, Chinese.

Still, this was a fantastic production. The set was just so eerie with its muddy-looking drapes, the barren trees, and its jaundiced glow. Is this really the same lovely orchard the characters are longing for? This director, Lin Zhaohua, not only emphasized the dying Russian aristocracy and change in social tides, but the isolation and alternate realities that each character lives in. They talk at each other, but fail to communicate. The lead woman, Ravensky, is warned of her fate and the fate of the cherry orchard, yet she refuses to face reality. The meaningless of the characters' actions finally spirals into the destruction of the orchard as the play concludes with the sound of an axe chopping down the trees.

Both of these performances were absolutely entrancing. A completely new theatre experience for me.


Ronaldo7 said...

Holli that sounds SO BRILLIANT! Now I'm really jealous. Those productions sound fantastic - such a wonderful cultural experience. I can only imagine how wonderful it was...really I can only imagine. because I'm stuck in Provo.

Holli said...

I knew you would appreciate this Hillary!

Chase & Tricia said...

Wow! All the posts are so great! I am so jealous. But, I am going to try to blend watermelon...that sounds so good especially right now in humid houston! By the way, I really like your white shirt in one of the posts below!

Anna Jay said...

Holli! I love this. Those two plays sound like a dream. Also, I love that you are chillin with grandma. Keep the posts coming so I can continue to feel somewhat edified here in my little Ptown Bubble.