Fri, Dec 10, 2004 - Page 14 News List

Puppet theater gives us 'marrying for love'

By Meredith Dodge  /  STAFF REPORTER

Director Ke Shi-hong demonstrates his art.

PHOTO: MEREDITH DODGE, TAIPEI TIMES

This weekend, hopeless romantics can find a mini version of the poor-boy-meets-rich-girl at Crown Arts Theater Center, where The Happy Puppetry Company will put on the puppet version of a Taiwanese play whose name is now synonymous with marrying for love: Chen San Wu Niang.

Written in the early days of Taiwanese opera, Chen San Wu Niang tells the story of forbidden love. Chen San is a young man from a family of poor officials who falls in love with the fifth daughter of the wealthy Huang family, Wu Niang. To get closer to his beloved, Chen San enters the Huang court posing as a cleaner of mirrors. He intentionally breaks a mirror, and to compensate must become a slave of the Huang family. Unfortunately, he finds that Wu Niang is promised to the smarmy aristocrat Lin Dai (林岱). Can true love conquer class norms? Only the puppets can tell.

According to director Ke Shi-hong (柯世宏), the theme of the triumph of love over tradition gives the story a modern edge. Perhaps Ke, whose grandmother founded the troupe, chose the play to fit his vision of a traditional puppet show -- with a up-to-date twist.

While the porcelain, cloth and wood puppets replace the flesh-and-blood humans that traditionally play the characters of Chen San Wu Niang, Ke has decided, in a few scenes, to replace the puppets with flesh-and-blood humans. The human actors do their part to mimic movements of their wooden counterparts as they sing, dance and spar with them. The result is endearing and comical.

"Hopefully, the modern style of this show will attract new audience members, especially the young folk," said Ke Jia-cai (柯加財), Shi-hong's father, who does the voices for most of the characters.

Another innovative aspect of the production is the musical accompaniment. It is not the fast-paced beiguan music traditional used in Taiwanese puppet theater, but rather the slower and more flowing nanguan music, provided by the SingSing Nanguan Company (心心南管樂坊).

This, according to Ke, allows for more variety of movement with the puppets. And their movements are diverse indeed. As the puppets flow gracefully across the set, one can almost see the lightning-quick steps of their tiny, non existent feet. And while their porcelain lips do not move as they speak, the subtle cocking of the puppets chins can convey a surprising illusion of expression.

Both the songs and the dialogue are in Taiwanese, with Mandarin supertitles.

Performance notes:

What: Nanguan puppet theater: Chen San Wu Niang

(南管布袋戲).

Where: Crown Arts Theater Center, 50, Ln 120, Dunhua N Rd (皇冠藝文中心,敦化北路120巷50號).

When: Tonight at 7:30pm and tomorrow at 2:30pm and 7:30pm.

Tickets: NT$250

For more information, please go to www.artsticket.com, or call (02) 2993 1963.

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