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In his new theater adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, Liu Liang-yen has not only turned it into a musical and changed the setting to contemporary Asia but also has eliminated Stanley Kowalski's role.
The Taiwan director's pioneering adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play premiered in Taipei on Dec 5 and will be staged at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center from Jan 17-Feb 17.
The 1947 play by American playwright Tennessee Williams tells about a woman who's past her prime time taking shelter with her sister's family. But she loses her sanity after her brother-in-law abuses and rapes her.
It has been recognized as a modern classic, and the movie adaptation, starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando, has reinvigorated its allure since the 1990s.
"You can't find in Asian culture the equivalent role of Stanley, who's attractive yet destructive, and charming yet threatening," the director says.
Liu decided to focus on the entanglement between the sisters - Blanche, the dishonored woman seeking refuge in her sister's home - and Stella - the younger sister who's building her life and expecting a baby with her husband Stanley in a new environment.
Blanche is a troubled soul, a misfit, whose background is colored by scandals and a husband who committed suicide. Stella has left behind her family history and started afresh in a new city.
Liu calls his creation "something like a duet dance theater production". The two actresses sing jazz with a tad of Peking Opera, while performing dances from various genres, including contemporary, ballroom, Chinese folk opera and Japanese kabuki.
Ma Qingli, who plays Blanche, and Han Shuang, who plays Stella, agree this is challenging.
It's also the first time either woman - both majored in musical theater at the Shanghai Theater Academy - has performed a leading role. Liu says he was impressed by their versatility and potential.
He's the founder and artistic director of Theater Company of LQZ the Private and has been working on a series of productions named Theater of Nymphomania. They're based on his studies of stereotyped women's roles in Chinese and foreign literature.
One of the previous five projects, Cao Qiqiao, successfully adopted choreography from Japanese kabuki, and blended these with music and poses from Peking Opera.
"Streetcar is a classic, and we want to bring out something fresh," producer Zhang Huahua says.
"In addition to fusing Peking Opera with jazz music and dance theater, we also hired an installation artist to create an abstract and experimental stage setting."
It will be a very bold attempt, and audiences may find it hard to accept.
"Chinese audiences are accustomed to story-centered plays like suspense thrillers and comic love stories, and this will be a bit of a challenge."
Liu's theatrical portrayals of twisted women have been powerful and convincing. And the music composed by award-winning movie soundtrack composer and jazz player Blaire Ko will make the play more accessible, Zhang says.
(China Daily 12/07/2012 page20)