Fri, Jul 02, 2004 - Page 18 News List

A big drama over a small stage for `Tea House'

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

From left to right, Pu chun-xin, Liang Guan-hua and Yang Li-xin, are the stars in Lao She's Tea House.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NEW ASPECT

They were not happy about the size of the stage, but the show must go on and the performers of Beijing People's Art Theater (北京人民藝術劇院) are in Taipei to stage Tea House (茶館) by Lao She (老舍), a classic of modern Chinese drama known for, among other things, the size of its cast.

"This is big theater," said Liang Guan-hua (梁冠華), one of the show's stars, waving his arm at the diminutive stage.

With over 50 named characters spanning three generations, Tea House is a big production, in many ways, and the tiny stage of the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall does cramp its style somewhat.

During rehearsals there was talk of removing some of the elaborate props because of the lack of space. There were also some grumbles about the venue's notoriously poor lighting and sound system. Staff at the theater said they were trying to resolve the problems.

Tea House has been a hit in China where it been performed over 200 times, but its appeal in Taiwan is less certain. The play, which was written in 1958, is an established classic but it is also showing its age.

The style it was written in is heavily melodramatic and contemporary politics has also affected how we see the events depicted ? the last days of the Qing Empire, the Nationalist interlude and the rise of communism.

What saves it is Lao She's deep love for old Beijing, its language, its habits and most of all, its common people. These elements lift the

production. Not surprisingly, a lot of top class talent has been brought over from China by the troupe, not least the three lead actors Liang, Pu Chun-xin (濮存昕) and Yang Li-xin

(楊立新).

Overall, Tea House has an overwhelmingly nostalgic quality, intentionally so, for Lao She clearly loved the old world of Beijing's tea houses, though it was the communist revolution that made him famous which destroyed them.

Tea House in Taipei in 2004 is definitely something of an anachronism, but there is still plenty of charm and skill on display. It won't change the way you see things, but its does, for some brief moments bring back aspects of China that have all but disappeared.

Tea House, which opened yesterday, will run through to July 8 with performances at 7:30pm at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. Tickets are NT$1,000 to NT$3,000 and are available through ERA ticketing or from the venue.

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