American classic gets a Chinese makeover

By Chen Jie (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-04-22 09:14

When Ephraim Cabot brings his young bride Abbie to their remote New England farm, little does he see the turmoil that her arrival will bring his family. Ephraim's youngest son at first loathes the newcomer, but when hatred gives way to lust, the resulting conflict threatens to rock the peaceful farm.

Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms may be familiar to many theatergoers but how would it be if performed in China's Chuanju Opera? In 1989, the playwright Xu Fen tried to adapt it into a Chuanju Opera play entitled Wild Desire (Yuhai Kuangchao) and the Chengdu Chuanju Opera Company premiered it that May.

As part of the ongoing Chuanju Opera Week, presented by the Chengdu Chuanju Opera Company, the play will run at the Memorial Hall of Peking University on Saturday.

Because of the sparseness of its style and its avoidance of melodrama, Desire Under the Elms was acclaimed immediately as a powerful tragedy and has continued to rank among the great American plays of the 20th century.

"Desire is definitely not an easy work to carry off but we try deliver the original spirit and power of the drama as well as appeal to Chuanju fans," says the playwright Xu.

The Chuanju Opera Week also includes the play Story of the Red Plum Blossom (Hong Mei Ji), which will run at the Memorial Hall of Peking University on Friday.

Story of the Red Plum Blossom is based on the legend written by Zhou Chaojun in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It tells the story of Li Huiniang, who is forced to be a concubine of the powerful minister Jia Sidao. Li refuses and falls in love with a young man named Pei Yu. Jia kills Li and captures Pei but the ghost of Li saves Pei and finally punishes Jia.

One of China's oldest local operas, Chuanju Opera is popular in Southwest China's Sichuan province and some regions of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. During the early years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), five local operas - Kunqu, Gaoqiang, Huqin, Tanxi and Dengxi - were gradually merged into what is now known as Chuanju Opera.

"Chuanju Opera's wide repertoire has a strong literary quality, and is full of wit, humor and lively dialogue with a pronounced local flavor. It also has built its own system of stylized movements," says Chen Qiaoru, vice-president of the Chengdu Chuanju Opera Company, who plays Abbie in Wild Desire.

"The two plays we bring to Beijing can fully display the special characters of Chuanju Opera. Many unique stunts such as quick changes of facial characteristics without makeup, and blowing fire are used in the plays," she says.

(China Daily 04/22/2008 page19)


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