Fri, Apr 13, 2007 - Page 14 News List

Madame Bovary speaks to a new generation

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Edward Lam's latest play takes a hard look at Taiwan's consumer culture and the objectification of women.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF ESLITE BOOKSTORE

When Gustav Flaubert was asked who is Madam Bovary, he replied, "Madame Bovary is Me," because, like the novel's heroine, he too felt like an outsider in French society. Those words spoken by Flaubert over 150 years ago have now become the title of Edward Lam's (林奕華) new play, which will be performed at the Eslite Theater on the sixth floor of the company's flagship store close to Taipei 101 beginning today.

At a rehearsal earlier this week, Lam discussed his play while young actors and actresses gyrated their way through a song by Jolin Tsai (蔡依林) — the only dance piece in an otherwise text-heavy play.

"This kind of song is very much a kind of self-objectification," he said. "You will see a lot of self-objectification throughout the play. So the theme is about objectification and subjectivity."

Infusing the play with iconography from Taiwan's popular culture, Lam hopes to speak to a younger generation of theater-goers.

"There are not very many theater companies doing things like celebrating the youth or showing what youth is," Lam said.

By doing so, he hopes to offer today's youth an alternative to what they are fed by television and Hollywood.

Before beginning rehearsals, Lam had all the actors read Madame Bovary because he wanted to use the novel as a starting point for the actors to gain a better understanding of their own lives and how they fit into society. After reading the novel, Lam sat down with all the actors and asked them a number of questions, the answers to which form the basis of the play Madam Bovary is Me.

"These actors were instrumental in writing the script and most of it is based on their experiences and thinking," he said.

In the context of Flaubert, an author writing in a realist tradition that notoriously felt that language was inadequate to the task of expressing emotions and ideas, Lam has his work cut out. However, like the novel, Lam manages to show his characters reacting to circumstances in a way that suggests they are unconscious of their motives and pained by the consequence of their actions.

If Flaubert used a variety of techniques to show the inadequacy of language to exhibit meaning, Lam uses the same tropes to illustrate the dissonance between each characters' ideals and the realities they face — realities that are often bereft of any kind of meaning separate from the acquisition of objects and the status they bring.

Lam suggests that contemporary society's obsession with the acquisition of material objects — with the commercialism and advertising it entails — parallels the inadequacy of language, which suggests that language may be more effective for the purposes of obscuring the truth or conveying its opposite, than representing the truth itself.

Though the play deals with heavy themes, Lam lightens the experience by bringing humor to the work. And clocking in at just under three hours, the audience should appreciate the pokes he makes at popular culture.

"It is a very entertaining piece of contemporary life about consumer culture … and how men and women see their status in modern society," he said.

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