Fri, Nov 28, 2003 - Page 17 News List

Taiwanese queue for a piece of `ART'

`ART,' by the Godot Theater Company is so popular it sold out, but more tickets are now being offered

By Ian Bartholomew  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Li Li-chun is bewildered by modern ART.

PHOTO: IAN BARTHOLOMEW, TAIPEI TIMES

The upcoming performance of Yasmina Reza's 1994 play Art by the Godot Theater Company has turned out to be something of a coup de theatre. Opening on Dec. 25 and originally scheduled for 16 performances in Taipei -- a long run by local standards. Tickets for the first seven performances are booked solid and only the most expensive remain for the rest.

Godot announced Tuesday that it would be returning for an additional six shows in Taipei in February after it has completed its countrywide tour. Tickets for these additional performances are also selling fast.

Why the enthusiasm?

While Yasmina Reza has made something of a sensation in Europe and the US, she is a long way from theatrical greatness and while most reviews acknowledge her accessibility, they are also just a tad dismissive. A review in the British magazine The Spectator describes her as "intellectual theater lite."

While Art won the Moliere Award for Best Play, Best Production, and Best Author when it was first released, and has since proved popular in numerous translated productions, the real draw for Godot's production is that it features three of Taiwan's most distinguished comedians in a virtuoso peace of ensemble work.

The play has a cast of only three; but when these are Ku Bao-ming (顧寶明), Chin Shih-jie (金士傑) and Li Li-chun (李立群), dominant figures in Taiwan's theatrical landscape, the effect is vastly superior to any of the cast-of-hundreds shows that Godot is inexplicably fond of putting on.

Each actor brings his own unique style to the show, and as director Liang Chih-ming (梁志明) said, it is as though the three have been rehearsing this show for the last 30 years.

The story is simple enough: Art is about the relationship between three friends, one who has bought an expensive modernist work. One of his friends despises him for this while the other tries to make peace between the two. What follows is a machine-gun battle of words, which is excruciatingly funning in its own right and is all the cleverer for the fact that most of the action is in the subtext. The modernist art work at the center of the debate serves merely as a catalyst for the three friends to assess their relationship -- hence the accusation of being "intellectual theater lite," for while it has pretensions to the high-brow, it is not rigorously intellectual.

While nobody will deny that Taiwan has theatrical talent, its perennial problem has been a lack of depth that tends to mar ambitious projects such as Ping-Fong's recent Wedding Memories, in which the stars absolutely overwhelm the rest of the cast. The small scale of the current production and the decision to cast three of the most highly sought after actors -- rather than letting one big name carry the publicity load for two lesser names -- has provided an opportunity to see some top-class action on stage.

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