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Experimental drama keeps audience alert
( 2003-11-29 10:11) (China Daily)

There are several renowned Chinese directors whose work always draws large crowds.

But a drama by young director Xu Haofeng currently being staged at the Experimental Theatre of the Capital Theatre in Wangfujing has been a surprise.

The surprise isn't just the moment when water is squirted onto the unsuspecting audience; it's the poignantly sarcastic conclusion that evokes a moment of clever retrospection.

Staged nightly through December 8, the two-hour production entitled "The Dawn Here is Quiet (zhekuai'er de Liming Jingqiaoqiao) " sounds similar to a film from the former Soviet Union that was popular in China in the 1960s.

But lovers of the old film about World War II might be somewhat bewildered by the play, which revolves around the desperate struggle of a mediocre drama director to adapt the movie to the stage.

"Amid the myriad of thoughts and forms, I am completely baffled,'' exclaims the director (played by Zhang Jin) during the second scene when he gets drunk and pours forth his true thoughts.

That line sums up the entire production.

In a somewhat incoherent manner, the play is full of puns and exaggerated humour.

The opening seems misleading though, as the audience is greeted by a sly director trying to appease the pampered playwright (played by Jiang Zhuqing), who is actually his lover, and a rebellious troupe of actors.

But as the drama unfolds, the audience discovers that beneath the cynical surface the director still cherishes ideals about the art of theatre, which is being crushed in the market-oriented society.

To attract a larger audience, the director and playwright decide to change the film's original storyline of one warrant officer and five female soldiers stationed in a remote village, replacing it with a "one vs 10'' scenario.

And they encourage the officer to quit the old-fashioned "I am in trouble'' idea to embrace the golden opportunity of living with 10 women for an indefinite period before the German troops arrive.

But before the crew can embrace the lucrative debut, the performers are lured by more influential directors from film and television.

The director and playwright then launch auditions to replace them, and all sorts of strange persons show up -- including a young country girl with long plaited hair and homemade flowery cotton overcoat. She literally drags out her stay on the stage which results in the director's ripped shirt.

But the climax comes when an actress volunteers to "brighten up'' the play by drawing one drop of her own blood during every performance.

The exhilarated director holds the syringe half-filled with "blood'' (actually water) and squirts it at the audience in celebration of success.

Yet the actress is again attracted to a more famous crew, and the director and playwright have to swallow their pride to beg for investment.

Humiliated by their former leading actor and actress, who have blossomed into stars under the baton of more famous directors, the couple supports each other under the ripped shirt in the rain.

A dashing young lady in a white wedding dress then appears, and she turns out to be the country girl. She offers to invest in the drama now running aground, on condition that she and her husband take the leading roles. Her husband was once turned down by the director but has become a millionaire.

"I overheard you saying `An artist whom no one cares about is like an ownerless dog.' Now I offer to be your owner,'' declares the actress.

The couple commands the director and playwright to bark. Infuriated, the director picks up the rifle used by the warrant officer in his play, and thrusts madly at unknown enemies in the air.

"Bang!'' comes a gun shot amid the mad rock music.

The director falls down flat, with eyes still open in search of his dreams.

While offering plenty of spicy humour, the drama touches the audience with its sincerity about the plight every artist must endure before finding success.

On the long road to achieving that success, they must sacrifice their ideals to make compromises to the needs of investors, the audience, and also themselves. So much so that the director is exasperated to exclaim: "Is this the same drama I once dreamed of?''

Director Xu Haofeng is now teaching at the Beijing Film Academy, from which he graduated in 1993. He has written novels and directed plays, one of which was staged at the same theatre in 2001.

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