Fri, Nov 28, 2003 - Page 17 News List

Theatrical voices make themselves heard

Popular theater troupe the Performance Workshop returns to the stage this weekend with a timely, satirical and at times insane look at life and politics in Taiwan

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

PHOTO: GEORGE TSRONG, TAIPEI TIMES

Hugely popular stage director Stan Lai (賴聲川) and his Performance Workshop (表演工作坊) theater troupe return to the boards of the National Theatre (國家戲劇院) this weekend, with a philosophical and comedic gambol entitled Mumble Jumble (亂民全講), which takes audiences on a weird journey through life and politics in Taiwan.

Loosely based on -- and drawing inspiration from -- Edward Lam's hit play, Eat, Money, Man, Woman (搵食男女), Mumble Jumble is a theatrical "State of the Nation" address, that, on the eve of next year's elections, sees members of the theater company expressing their thoughts apropos the current state of this nation.

Along with highlighting the improvisational talents of some of Taiwan's top theater actors and actresses, Mumble Jumble also features an appearance by popular songstress, Dadawa (阿雅) and a special cameo by Taiwan's most outspoken and best-known female politician, Sisy Chen (陳文茜), who plays the God of the Dead.

"We've gathered together a really strong cast of actors, all of whom have a genuine talent for improvisation," Lai said. "The production might not be in a style that people have come to expect from us, but I think because of the talented cast, along with the topics it touches on, it will still prove popular. Even with audiences not used to such madcap and out of the ordinary theater."

Under Lai's directorship, Performance Workshop has become one of Taiwan's leading contemporary theater groups since being founded in 1984. Along with performing, the group has also collaborated with any of the nation's smaller theater troupes .

As one of the most influential voices in Chinese-language theater, Lai has penned a staggering 23 original plays. He has toured worldwide and his 1992 production of The Peach Blossom Land (暗戀桃花源) has been made into a film. The play has had 50 different productions in Beijing alone. His most recent production, the seven hour epic, A Dream like A Dream, received top awards at this years Hong Kong Drama Awards.

Lai's group has managed to set itself apart from many of the nation's other theater troupes because of its reliance on social-political aspects and topical features as the basis for its productions over the years.

Previous popular productions have included a reworking of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot as well as the locally written Love On a Two-Way Street (他和他的兩個老婆), a show that was simultaneously performed in Taipei and Shanghai.

The group's most recent production was Sand and a Distant Star (在那遙遠的星球,一粒沙), a farcical comedy about alien abductions and visits by UFOs that proved a sellout in Sept.

It's back down to Earth with a bang for the Performance Workshop's latest production, however. Produced in close collaboration with artists from Hong Kong and China, Mumble Jumble forges a new-brand of Chinese theater which focuses on society and politics in Taiwan in a series of improvised scenes, all of which unfold in a wild and comedic fashion.

"The production is a bit different from our previous shows in the sense that there's no central plot and some of the dialogue is improvisational," Lai said. "By welding together series of sketches and scenes we've come up with a production concept that has never been tried in Taiwan before."

With a minimalist set, which along with a digital display, consists predominantly of projected photographs of city landscapes, the production moves quickly through a series of 11 real life and imaginary scenes.

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