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Returning home with father

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2017-09-09 07:54
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Lai Shengchuan.[Photo by Zou Hong/China Daily]

In finding his roots a playwright fulfills a paternal wish and gives a small town the theatrical insight it never had

When the US-born Taiwan-based director and playwright Stan Lai Sheng-chuan brought his comedy Menage a 13 to Huichang county, Jiangxi province, two years ago there was one thing that took him aback: not one person in the audience laughed.

"We thought, 'What's going on? Is there really that much difference between folk in the city and folk in smaller places?" says Lai, whose works have ranged from theater, opera to film and television over the past 30 years.

The failure of Menage a 13, a love-triangle comedy, to draw a rise out of the Huichang audience was all the more perplexing for Lai given that when it debuted in Taiwan in 1999 it became an instant hit.

He then inquired of one of his friends who worked in the theater.

"We thought we were not allowed to laugh," the friend said. "Someone said the artists are very serious and you don't want to distract them while they are performing. So whether it's funny or not we just kept everything bottled up inside."

Lai then decided gently to let locals know that if they felt like laughing, they should go ahead and do so, and not force anything. The play soon became phenomenal in the small town, and extra nights were scheduled.

"People really got into it, and they even talked about the play in very profound terms."

Then last year he took his classic play Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land to Huichang, and tickets sold out fast. The play has been staged hundreds of times since Lai's Performance Workshop in Taipei first performed it in 1986.

On Aug 26 he was in Huichang again to present a play, A Blurry Kind of Love, produced by Performance Workshop, a contemporary theater group he founded in 1984.

On the opening night the 1,000-seat theater, the only one in the county, and which is hidden in an array of narrow, busy streets in the downtown area, was packed.

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