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Drama explores marriage matters
( 2003-09-16 08:57) (China Daily)

Eleven months after its premiere, the third round of performances of "Celestial Human World" started on September 10. Although the third round finally turned out to be just one performance at the Poly Theatre, the audience feedback proved the play remains popular.

"Celestial Human World,"written and directed by Yin Tao, and performed by four traditional Chinese opera actors and actresses, has captivated the captial's audiences since its dubut last October. [China Daily]
Written and directed by Yin Tao, a China Central Television (CCTV) director, and performed by four traditional Chinese opera actors and actresses, "Celestial Human World" did not pass by the capital stages unnoticed like most other plays which are independent from professional troupes, and it even out-lived many dramas by professional troupes.

The change in venue seems to have implied its increasing influence: The play premiered in October 2002 at the Mini Theatre of the Beijing People's Art Theatre, which had some 200 seats; in February 2003 it moved to the 397-seat North Theatre; and now at the 1,230-seat Poly Theatre, which is considered as one of the most sought-after venues in Beijing.

Another thing to notice is that the script of the play has been published by the China Youth Press, which perhaps can be seen as some kind of recognition.

Through a composition of two fairy tales, "Celestial Human World" probes the theme of human nature.

Dong Yong and Cinderella have been married for several years. Bored by their routine life of sleeping, working and eating, they both dream of more romantic and affluent lives, yet they dare not take action in fear of condemnation from upholders of "social moral standards."

One day, Dong Yong met the Seventh Fairy, while Cinderella met the Prince. When there is a chance and good reason to improve one's life, he who refuses seems to be "either God or a fool."

Both Dong and Cinderella decide to forsake the old spouse and to pursue a better life. The course of their breaking up is full of skillful negotiation, but finally turned into a naked conflict.

After living with their new lovers for a period of time they once again find themselves in the familiar cycle of merely sleeping, working and eating.

In the traditional Chinese tale, the Seventh Fairy (or Zhi Nu, the Girl Weaver) left Heaven because she felt too lonely there. She came down to the human world, where she fell in love with Dong Yong, a poor farmer (or Niu Lang, the Cowherd). Ignoring her father's objection, the Seventh Fairy decided to marry Dong Yong and live an ordinary but happy life.

In the Western tale of Cinderella, the appearance of the Prince was the turning point of the poor girl's destiny.

The Seventh Fairy and the Prince perhaps represent the dream of men and women for ideal lovers, or an ideal lifestyle that is away from trivialism.

"Zhi Nu, White Snake, Miss Snail... Why do men want to be with succubi or fairies since ancient times?" asked one character in the play. "Because only succubi can be young and beautiful and nicely-shaped forever."

So every man wishes that fairies would descend to the human world, yet as soon as the fairies come to the human world they too become human. Fairies do not belong to this world, and he who has human desires does not deserve to live in the celestial world.

"This play has said something that everyone has experienced, but few speak about," said Ruan Daguo, a Shanghai businessman who watched the play. "It reflects a period in my own married life in which my wife and I had to renew our passion."

Ruan came to Beijing for business and he stayed at the Poly Hotel, which is just above the Poly Theatre. To kill some time on his last night in Beijing, he chose to see a play, which happened to be "Celestial Human World."

"I like its cynical and humorous language very much," said Ruan. "If I have enough money I want to invite the group to perform in Shanghai."

"Celestial Human World" adopts rhythmic lines, similar to traditional Chinese opera, but in oral language. Such a language gives the play an element of farce, which caused the audience to burst into laughter on several occasions.

Besides the language, the play has borrowed many other elements from traditional Chinese opera. The first element is perhaps its stage set of "one table, two chairs," which is typical for traditional opera performances.

"What I want to express through the play is something conceptual," said Yin, the author and director, "thus I cut out all the unnecessary elements so that I can make what I want to say simple and clear."

In the hypothetical world of traditional Chinese opera, "one table, two chairs" can be anything: a room, a court, a bed, a feast, or even a mountain. In "Celestial Human World," the set also serves various purposes. The table often represents the characters' inner world, while it later becomes the property that the couple fight for when they break up.

The play has shone with the outstanding performances of the actresses Wei Chunrong (Cinderella) from the Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre, Tang Hexiang (Seventh Fairy) from China Peking Opera Theatre, and actors Li Jian (Prince) from Beijing Peking Opera Theatre and Wang Quanyou (Dong Yong) from China Pingju Opera Theatre.

"I wrote and directed the play, everything else is thanks to the four performers," said Yin. "Without them there simply would not have been such a play."

Their performance falls between the stylized expressions of traditional Chinese opera and the realistic acting of modern drama.

"The performance of modern drama is less restricted compared to traditional Chinese operas," said Wang Quanyou. "However, all kinds of acting are communicable."

"Celestial Human World" is the first modern drama work of the Pingju Opera actor. Now Wang is doing his second, "Zhao shi gu'er" (Orphan of the Zhao Family), a drama based on the Peking Opera with the same title, with the famous drama director Lin Zhaohua.

What also challenged the audience was that in "Celestial Human World," the performers and the roles do not always correspond to each other. The Seventh Fairy and the Prince often play another sides of Dong Yong and Cinderella. Sometimes they also take the roles of observers.

Such a playful relationship between the actors and roles creates a dramatic tension, which is itself a part of the enjoyment that the play offers its audience.

But the play is in need of improvement. Its original theme song, "Bidding You Farewell Once Again," is certainly a very good song, but the lyrical melody and lyrics seem not to match the ironic manner of the play.

"Celestial Human World" has obviously been influenced by the much talked-about play "Che Guevara" in terms of its language and acting. Huang Jisu, one of the authors of "Che Guevara," contributed much advice to "Celestial Human World."

Yin has been working as a director with the CCTV documentary series "Stories of the Common People," which is part of the "Oriental Horizon" programme. He spent two years writing and rewriting "Celestial Human World."

For a maiden drama work, "Celestial Human World" is a successful one. Yin has started to construct his own style in this play, but has not yet established it.

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