Fri, Oct 17, 2003 - Page 18 News List

A look at lives on this island


A Voyage to the Island -- a solo operetta reflects on isolation in Taiwan.


Playbox Ensemble Theater (戲盒劇團), the second group to perform in this year's "New Idea Experimental Theater Series," (新點子實驗劇展) hosted by the CKS Cultural Center, will present a vignette of lives on the small island country in A Voyage to the Island -- a solo operetta (島語錄 -- 一人輕歌劇).

Well known for its original scripts and innovative stage settings, the group will also throw in several original songs for the first time in its fifth production.

Actress Hsu Yan-ling (徐偃玲), whose collaboration with many established theater groups like Shakespeare's Wild Sisters and the Creative Society, has won her star status in non-mainstream theater circles, will take on the challenging task of playing all the four characters -- ranging in age from six to 70.

The main character Ann, a 28-year-old woman, is what director Du Si-huei (杜思慧) calls a "Robinson Crusoe addict." Identifying herself with the fictional man on a desert island, Ann feels herself constantly drifting on a boundless ocean, never able to reach a another piece of land. Her sense of insulation, Du said, is shared by most Taiwanese people.

"People on this island look inward and our horizon is often limited to this piece of land. We have many highways to connect different parts of the island, but we have very few harbors to connect with other lands. Our connection with other places is flimsy," said Du on how geographical insulation of the country confines the minds of people in Taiwan.

The peculiar political situation in this country, particularly the uncertain relations with China, Du said, strengthens people's sense of drifting at sea. Du avoids, however, dealing directly with political subjects, choosing instead to show how the social and political environment affects the lives of the characters.

A 70-year-old Hakka woman reflects on her ethnic identity and how it influences her life so far. "With the actress being Hakka, it's easy to tell the life story of the character ... Although there have been many Hakkas among us all along, it's only in the last few years that ethnic minorities have won unprecedented respect," Du said.

Being more at ease with her origins, however, is not enough to soothe the old woman's worries about death. In The Song of Garbage, she laments her lonely old age, comparing herself to garbage that no one cares about. The growing number of elderly, in this fast-aging society, which pays increasingly less respect for old age, would share her sentiments.

In presenting a cross-section of Taiwanese society, Du also put a public school teacher in the play. Like other public sector employees, the teacher used to enjoy an "iron rice bowl" job, or a job that guarantees lifetime employment. Singing the Song of Gourd Soup, the retired high school teacher longs for the pension that she never receives. "You treat me a meal, but why did I get a main course of cod fish without the fish ... and a gourd soup without gourd?" she sings.

The fourth character, a six-year-old just graduated from her English-teaching day care center, has her own satirical thoughts about education.

Playbox Ensemble Theater performs A Voyage to the Island -- a solo operetta, at 7:30pm tonight and tomorrow and at 2:30pm tomorrow and Sunday, at the Experimental Theater (實驗劇場). Tickets are NT$400 and are available at the CKS Cultural Center.

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