Officials discover that people are vanishing in Taipei’s MRT stations and want the mystery solved before the media finds out. This is the central conceit of Theatre de la Sardine’s (沙丁龐客劇團) fifth production, Underground (地底的天空), currently playing at the National Experimental Theater.
It stars the troupe’s founder, Ma Zhao-qi (馬照琪), as an arrogant and thuggish male detective who is hired to find the missing persons. She also directs the work, which was translated from a script written by her husband, French expatriate Vincent Lecomte.
Theatre de la Sardine has gained a reputation in Taipei’s theater scene for creating works that use masks, puppetry and multimedia.
The use of masks in this production is particularly effective because they personify the characters. Ma’s face, for example, is concealed behind the mask of a bulldog, which reinforces her character’s gruff exterior.
The detective is a world-weary hack. Bored by his assignment, he falls asleep in an MRT station and wakes up in a dreamlike world where he discovers the missing people. The playwright uses this parallel world to explore Underground’s central theme: How do we attain happiness?
“In the play, like in life, we all have to make choices. Should I find a job and raise a family? Or should I
pursue my passions. And I think at one point or another we all have to face this basic issue of should we pursue our dreams or conform to what society wants us to do,” Ma said.
Audiences familiar with Theatre de la Sardine’s work will notice the social commentary. But the play doesn’t get bogged down by its message because the characters’ humorous banter and exaggerated gestures keep things moving at a frenetic pace.
WHAT: Underground (地底的天空)
WHERE: National Experimental Theater, Taipei City
WHEN: Today and tomorrow at 7:30pm and tomorrow and Sunday at 2:30pm
ADMISSION: NT$450 tickets are available through NTCH ticketing or online at www.artsticket.com.tw
The professors, students and scientists — to name a few of the play’s characters who have disappeared into the parallel universe — pursue their dreams free from the pressures of family or work. Witnessing these self-fulfilled individuals go through their daily routines inspires the investigator, and his search for the missing people turns into a search for his own happiness.
“The journey gradually changes him because these people constantly ask him why: Why don’t you want to stay? Why do you want to return the real world?” Ma said.
As the detective struggles with these questions, he faces another conundrum. Before he entered the MRT system, officials said they were planning to destroy the station the next morning.
Unsure if he wants to stay but increasingly certain that he doesn’t want the utopian world he has discovered to be destroyed by mindless bureaucrats, the investigator has to make a choice between his professional obligations and the enchanted world he has found.