Monday, October 28, 2013

CSI: Lear Is Here

·         Politics: Taiwan
o   1980s: support for Taiwanese independence was growing
o   Performing arts like jingjiu (Beijing opera) and huaju (spoken drama) moved away from traditional Chinese arts and adopted more Western elements
·         Personal: Wu
o   Born in 1959 in Taiwan
o   Entered the Fuxing Drama School to learn jingjiu at the age of twelve
o   Trained to play wu sheng characters, strong males often cast as the lead in a Beijing opera
o   Learned acting, dancing, singing, and acrobatics
o   Endured rigorous training with severe physical beatings
o   Completed his training at age twenty and received a scholarship to the Chinese Cultural University
o   Became interested in modern dance
o   1974: became part of the Cloud Gate dance company
§  Stressed spontaneity and connection to the performer’s body and emotions; more natural and unpredictable
§  Very different from the strict, traditional practices of jingjiu
o   1977: returned to jingjiu professionally
o   Became a disciple of the famous teacher and performer Zhou Zhengrong
§  Earned special status among Zhou’s protégés (like an adopted son)
§  Struggled to overcome tensions stemming from his participation in modern dance
o   In the mid-1980s, Zhou and Wu had a major falling out
§  Zhou disapproved of “some alien element” in one of Wu’s movements and began to beat him
§  Wu grabbed the stick and questioned his master’s methods
§  Zhou never acknowledged Wu again
o   Founded his own company, Contemporary Legend Theatre (CLT)
o   Adapted and performed Western classics, including Shakespeare
§  Kingdom of Desire, a Macbeth adaptation, 1986
§  War and Eternity, a Hamlet  adaptation, 1990
§  The Tempest, 2004
o   1999: the company closed because of financial problems and the changing status of jingjiu in Taiwan
o   Wrote Lear is Here during this hiatus and performed when company reopened in 2001
o   Lear is Here is the most radical
§  One-man performance
§  Minimalist costumes and spectacle
§  Wanted to renew and transform Beijing opera, and give it new life in a changing world
§  An autobiographical work reflecting his struggle with Beijing opera and with his master Zhou
§  Exploration of Wu’s own quest for artistic and personal identity
·         Recent trend, particularly in Asian interpretations of Shakespeare, to present an autobiographical interpretation
o   Lear Is Here is a jingjiu (Beijing opera) performance
o   Full title: Li Er zai ci, Wu Hsing-kuo Meets Shakespeare
§  The title is indicative of Wu’s comparing himself with Lear
·         Autobiographical rendition of a troubled relationship between father and child
o   Allegory about Wu’s uneasy relationship with his jingju Master Zhao
o   Wu’s resistance to his dead master takes several forms
§  Plays Lear, the wronged father, and Regan, the unruly daughter
§  Plays Edgar, the wronged son; and Gloucester, who wrongfully resented him
§  In shifting between daughter and father, Wu dramatizes his resistance to the dominating father figure
§  Imagines his master’s repose by impersonating the father
§  Commentary on his apprenticeship and career in Beijing opera
o   Anxieties about a dominating master/father figure in his career
o   By playing all the characters, he is able to deal with conflicting identities—himself as a disciple and his master as a surrogate father
o   Played daughters to imagine what it would be like if he had gone against his master—and then Lear to imagine what his master’s reaction would have been
·         “Who am I?”
o   Says this phrase repeatedly in Act Three; directly translates a section of Shakespeare that includes this phrase in Act One
o   Line-by-line translation amid interpretation shows its significance, central theme
·         When he removes his beard, headpiece, and costume, he speaks to the audience as himself
o   Wu depicts Lear as two bodies: a fictional character and a human performer representing the character—revealing the performer to be in search of an identity
o   “I’m back!”
§  Signifies return to the stage in 2001 after the Contemporary Legend Theatre was disbanded two years ago
§  Triumph over difficulties in finance and human resources
·         Wu believes he shares  many of Lear’s characteristics—rage, madness, arrogance, capriciousness
o   Grabbed the stick Zhou was beating him with and spoke out
o   A few days before Master Zhou’s death, Wu dreamed of fighting his master, and killing him with his bare hands.
·         Onstage costume change represented resistance to old traditions
o   Played many characters to show that he is not just the male combatant that his master trained him to be, but rather a versatile actor
·         Not a “big-time” but a “small-time” appropriation; in Wu’s hometown performance, a majority of the audience knew about Wu’s identity crisis and cheered him through the performance as he announced, “I am back! I have returned to my profession!”
·         King Lear by Shakespeare
o   Lear’s division of the kingdom and solo performance
o   Fool reproaches Lear; Kent recalls the scene
§  Fool makeup
o   The three sisters
§  Water sleeves, female dance movements
o   Gloucester’s blinding (very briefly covered)
o   The Cliffs of Dover
·         Reference to a local song
o   The Fool sings of a rich man in Taipei who bought his daughters each a building, and when they break their agreement to care for him in return, he hires a bulldozer to knock them all down

o   “Perhaps the only unambiguously local or topical reference in the play; [it] is greeted by great applause and laughter”

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