Fri, Feb 24, 2006 - Page 15 News List

International Theater Festival opens up on a political note

By Derek Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

The opening play of this year's theater festival is Francois-Michel Pesenti 's Knock on Heaven's Door.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CHIANG KAI-SHEK CULTURAL CENTER

The 2006 International Theater Festival of Taiwan will start tomorrow evening at the National Experimental Theater with Knock on Heaven's Door, and carry on until the end of April.

Co-produced and directed by Francois-Michel Pesenti of the Theatre du Point Aveugle from France, the play touches upon the sensitive issue of national identity in Taiwan. It is also scheduled to be performed in Shanghai this fall.

Pesenti emphasizes that the play has several plots and only a small part of the play will discuss the issue of national identity.

As a director and because of his previous experiences working with people of different nationalities, Pesenti finds the collective memory of a traumatic experience by an ethnic group worthy of detailed investigation. That traumatic experience may mean different things to different individuals, but it keeps on affecting them in their social behavior.

What is intriguing to Pesenti is that he has witnessed a number of incidents in Taiwan, which took place a long time ago, and yet many of them continue to have an impact on Taiwanese society. He has never encountered the same kind of experience anywhere else in the world.

"When I deal with that kind of self-identified tragic encounter, I have never attempted to give either answers or solutions to the problem. What I do is just to observe how that group memory co-exists within the society," Pesenti said. "If I were not a European, I would not have produced such a play."

Pesenti was amazed to find one of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov' s plays, The Cherry Orchard (1904), matched the Taiwanese situation rather closely.

So, he was inspired by Chekhov's works and asked each cast member to study, in addition to The Cherry Orchard, four other Chekhov plays, including Uncle Vanya (1896), The Three Sisters (1901), The Sea Gull (1896) and Ivanoff (1887).

The nine cast members picked their own lines from these five plays and deliver these words on stage after re-organizing them. So, every line uttered by the cast is derived from Chekhov's works.

The most fascinating thing about producing the play, for Pesenti, is that although all the parties involved, either in China or Taiwan, agreed to allow such a play to deal with the issue of national identity, nobody has a definite answer.

When the cast members were asked to search for an answer to the problem of Taiwan-China, they failed to come up with any. And when they did not know the solution, some of them cried instead.

Pesenti describes this reaction as "tear drops of history" and is keen to show people's feelings of helplessness on stage in his play. Pesenti believes that no matter what the solution is, the result can be rather painful at the end.

"Everybody has to get rid of something from his or her inner self, whether it be a Taiwanese or a Chinese identity," he said.

This is, perhaps, the reason why many people do not wish the final solution to come too soon. He looks forward to seeing audiences who attend the show look at things in a different way and learn something different from it.

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