Fri, Jan 07, 2005 - Page 13 News List

Williams' 'Streetcar' rolls into town

YouSee Theatre will stage the classic Tennessee Williams play `A Streetcar Named Desire' this weekend at Novel Hall

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER

Getting back to traditional theater, Taipei's upstart troupe YouSee Theatre (有戲製作館) will stage Tennessee Williams' seminal work A Streetcar Named Desire (慾忘街車) this weekend starting tonight at Taipei's Novel Hall with a star-studded cast to contrast with the group's austere production style.

Under direction from John Sheng Kuo (郭強生), an award-winning novelist and New York University drama PhD whose dissertation focused in part on the works of Williams, the play will be intentionally staged in a manner that Kuo said was "as true to the original text as possible" using his own translation of the play.

"Williams achieved a great rhythm in his script. I've tried in the translation to keep that rhythm in Chinese so that the play can recreate the same enormous impact of the original," he said after a rehearsal Wednesday.

A Streetcar Named Desire will be YouSee Theatre's second production after last year's The Desired (慾可慾非常慾), which also looked at issues related to sexual impulses, albeit largely from a male perspective.

Drawing from his experience in literary criticism and literary readings of theater while also seeking to draw a distinction with the preponderant tendency of local theater troupes to stage highly abstract or conceptual pieces, Kuo said he sought to shift the emphasis to the actors for a performance that displays the many layers of each of Williams' characters.

"The vocabulary within Taiwan's theater when dealing with issues of desire and mourning is actually quite weak. It's usually either too abstract, or simply too conventional, with the result that characters are too flat. So, I demand that the actors really dig into the characters to bring out the vivid emotions that Williams wrote into the play," Kuo said.

A sneak preview of the play on Wendnesday confirmed that, with a few scratchy microphones and one wardrobe issue aside, Kuo has successfully flogged stirring emotional performances out of his cast of seasoned actors. These include the well-known author and actress Betty Wu (吳淡如) playing the star role of Blanche, actress Tang Liqi (唐立淇) as Stella, TV actor Lin Wei (林煒) as Stanley and Hsiao Yen-chung (蕭言中) in the role of Mitch.

Wu stands out in particular, not only for occupying the role of the play's lead character, but in faithfully reproducing Blanche's delicate mixture of coquettishness, vulnerability and suggested sexuality that form the basis of Williams' complex discourse on gender in the play.

Without overplaying the woe in her predicament as a woman surrounded by men who are eager to carry out one form or another of aggression against her, Wu comes across as the outwardly fragile, yet inwardly tough woman that is Blanche.

Maintaining that delicate tipping point poses a particular challenge and is especially poignant in the context of Taiwan, Kuo said.

"Even today, in society at large, people's understanding of gender predicaments is quite low. There's a subconscious, low-level violence that plays out against women who are perceived as too dominant or visible," he said.

"This applies to Blanche, who doesn't want to be what the men around her expect of her."

Hsiao is also convincing as the insecure and hypocritically moralistic Mitch, who becomes torn when he learns of Blanche's colorful romantic past and ultimately rejects her as a "dirty" woman, though not before attempting a crass sexual pass at her.

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