Fri, Dec 10, 2004 - Page 13 News List

Graphic imagery will leave a lasting impression

By Diana Freundl  /  STAFF REPORTER

Politically savvy Assignment Theater, closes the CKS Experimental festival this weekend with an original script, A Soldier's Pay.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CKS CULTURAL CENTER

When a soldier working at the Naval History Museum in Taipei raped and killed a female high school student in 1999 it stunned the nation. Five years later, the story has resurfaced, this time in a theatrical interpretation of the incident. Assignment Theater (差事劇團) brings to the CKS Cultural Center A Soldier's Pay and with it a whole lot of questions on how we receive and perceive historical data.

One of the most socially aware groups, Assignment Theater tends to focus its material on political issues in Taiwan. Chung Chiao (鍾喬) officially founded the company in 1996, but its origins began several years earlier when Chiao formed People's Theater, a project aimed at cross-cultural exchanges with various theatrical companies throughout Asia. In the early days he would take local actors to perform in neighboring countries and likewise sponsor foreign groups to perform in Taiwan.

Assignment Theater has built a reputation around its use of contemporary theater to critically analyze social and cultural issues in contemporary society. For his latest production, Chiao has invited director and playwright, Wang Mo-lin (王墨林) to guest direct his own work.

Rather than merely narrate the 1999 murder, Wang's script uses the event to hit on themes such as war, power and nationalism. The young man who was convicted of the murder was partially responsible for data entry at the museum, which involved scanning photos of female victims of war. Images of helpless women juxtaposed with images of noble soldiers could have an alarming effect on the viewer, in this case the soldier, Wang said.

"We can never condone the behavior of this man, but we must ask ourselves how different this action is from the aggressive behavior and power struggle that takes place during war. If this is how we defend our nation-states, then we must question the emphasis we place on nationalism, he said.

The plot sounds compelling, but will it be visually stimulating?

The script is full of violence, nudity and profane dialogue, which normally tweak public interest. Wang's use of graphic imagery, however, is to emphasize his point, and he does so by using that which he is criticizing: sensational violence in mainstream media. On a television or cinema screen, the content may not appear as disturbing as on stage, where it could have a more profound effect on its viewers. To some extent that's the point, he added.

Collaborating on the show is contemporary Taiwanese artist, Chen Chieh-ren (陳界仁). Chen's involvement in social activism, like that of Wang's stems from the period of martial law when many artists would use performance art to publicly protest the government. More recently, Chen is associated with his photographs of torture scenes in which he superimposes himself on historical photo documents.

A Soldier's Pay is the closing performance of the CKS Experimental Theater Festival and it promises to leave a lasting impression.

Performance notes:

What: Assignment Theater presents <>

When: Thursday to Sunday at 7:30pm with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30pm

Where: Experimental Theater at Chaing Kai-shek Cultural Center National Theater (國家戲劇院實驗劇場), 21-1, Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei (台北市中山南路21-1).

Tickets: NT$450 available through the CKS box office or online at www.artsticket.com.

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