Source: China State Council Information Office 3
The fourth Lao She Theater Festival invokes new approaches to examining the life and work of one of China’s most illustrious men of letters, Chen Nan reports.
When director and scriptwriter Jiang Tonglin was commissioned to create a new play adapted from Chinese writer Lao She’s (1899-1966) works for the Lao She Theater Festival, he decided to combine six of the luminary’s works into one play.
My Ideal Life, which will premiere at the Tianqiao Performing Arts Center on Dec 29 and 30, will conclude the festival’s fourth edition.
The play Jiang wrote and directed tells one story from each of six works by Lao She, including his prose, My Ideal Family, his script for the oneact play, Mr Breeches, and his novels, such as Crescent Moon and Rickshaw Boy.
“Every year, we put on plays adapted from Lao She’s writings. When we read his works, we feel connected and want to share them with our audiences, especially young people,” says Jiang, who’s one of the founding members of the annual event launched in 2017, which aims to pay tribute to the renowned writer.
Lao She was born as Shu Qingchun to a Manchu family in Beijing in 1899. He’s best known for his vivid descriptions of ordinary people’s lives, accurate reflections of social realities and precise depictions of Beijing culture, using his unique humor and employing the city’s dialect.
His novels, including Rickshaw Boy and Four Generations Under One Roof, and his plays, such as Long Xu Gou (Dragon Beard Ditch) and Teahouse, earned him lasting fame as a literary master.
Lao She committed suicide in Beijing’s Taiping Lake in 1966 during the “cultural revolution” (1966-76), leaving a wealth of work that went on to inspire generations of writers.
According to Jiang, besides his famous works, the new play, My Ideal Life, will introduce some of Lao She’s lesser-known works.
His script for the one-act play, Mr Breeches, was written in 1933 and portrays a man in breeches, who assumes a commanding posture on a train. It gives a detailed portrayal of the protagonist’s behavior and his arrogant language through humor.
“The script has never been staged,” Jiang says.
“When I read it, I was impressed by its vivid and clever approach to depicting the man.”
Unlike Lao She’s novels, such as Crescent Moon and Rickshaw Boy, both of which portray poor people’s misery against the backdrop of the 1930s, two of his works, Shan Ren (literally, “kind man”) and Lao Nian de Lang Man (literally, “romance of the elderly”), were published in a collection of his works, titled Ying Hai Ji.
Shan Ren portrays a warmhearted woman named Mu Fengzhen. Lao Nian de Lang Man is about 60-year-old Liu Xingren, who struggles with the idea of remarrying.
“Although those works were written decades ago, we can still relate to the roles and their stories. Over 90 percent of the dialogues in the play are from Lao She’s original versions,” says Jiang, adding that the play’s music borrows from Paganini’s 24 Caprices.
“We put the six stories together into one play, with one story connecting to the other, rather than telling them separately. There’s an interesting link among the characters, which will offer a fresh look at Lao She’s works.”
The nine actors play over 40 roles, Jiang says. Their average age is 27.
The fourth Lao She Theater Festival opened on Oct 23 in Beijing, although many performances have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ten plays were staged.
One highlight is the play Neighbors, adapted from Lao She’s eponymous work, which was staged on Oct 24 at the Lao She Memorial Hall, a courtyard in Beijing where the writer lived with his wife, artist Hu Jieqing, and their four children from 1950 to 1966.
“Over the past four years, the Lao She Theater Festival has developed into a platform for theatrical productions from home and abroad,” says Cheng Hui, the festival’s co-initiator and curator.
“It allows for creativity and brings opportunities for young people, including directors, scriptwriters and actors. We had to rearrange our programs because this year’s performing-arts market has been heavily affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The audiences’ feedback is very warm and encouraging.”
He adds that A Flea in Her Ear (La Puce a l’oreille), a play by Georges Feydeau written in 1907 and staged by the Comedie-Francaise theater company, has been screened online, enabling more people to enjoy the festival.