Two performers with white shirts and shaven heads smile, grimace, raise their arms, bend their knees and stuff steamed buns into their mouths. Their taut bodies and twitching faces express nuanced emotions that are louder than words.
Theater aficionados will recognize this as a scene from Beautiful 2011 by Cheng Chih-chung (鄭志忠), a theater veteran and director of Liu Chun-chun Company (柳春春劇社). Premiered in 2000, the play is considered a study in Theatre of Cruelty, a surreal take on the theatrical arts propounded by Antonin Artaud in 1930s.
The show is being brought to life again for A Crash Course in Modern Theater (現代劇場大補帖), a three-play production that revisits modern theater classics.
Organized by poet, theater director and filmmaker Hung Hung (鴻鴻), the aim behind the series is to reinvigorate the country’s theatrical arts, which are “filled with entertainment but devoid of life,” he says.
Besides Beautiful 2011, the lineup consists of Liao Chin-wang’s (廖金旺) The Bald Soprano, Taipei Time (禿頭女高音的台北時間), a localized production of Eugene Ionesco’s 1948 The Bald Soprano, and Offending the Audience, Austrian writer Peter Handke’s 1965 anti-theater statement.
The three works were chosen because they question social norms and existing values.
“If you go to a theater and watch something you already know, you may as well go see a Hollywood movie,” Hung Hung says. “A true pleasure for theater audiences is to be provoked and think, ‘Wow, that is different from what I … believe.”
Without one line of dialogue, Beautiful 2011, Liu Chun-chun Company’s first performance in seven years, explores humanity through a study of the relationship between two people. Emotions shift, flow and emanate from the precise physicality of the gestures and movements made by actors Hu Tang-chih (胡堂智) and Yang Li-jung (楊禮榕), who performed in the production’s first run.
WHAT: A Crash Course in Modern Theater (現代劇場大補帖)
WHEN: Tonight at 7:30pm, tomorrow at 2:30pm and 7:30pm and Sunday at 2:30pm
WHERE: Guling Street Avant-Garde Theatre (牯嶺街小劇場), 2, Ln 5, Guling St, Taipei City (台北市牯嶺街5巷2號)
ADMISSION: NT$750, available through NTCH ticketing or online at www.artsticket.com.tw
ON THE NET: www.wretch.cc/blog/darkeyeslab
“There were a lot of works like Beautiful 10, 20 years ago in Taiwan,” Hung Hung says. “Back then, the theater was full of life; it was tough and had the vigor of a beast.”
In Offending the Audience, the actors insult theatergoers to draw attention to the act of attending the theater. Language, or the arbitrariness of language, is examined in The Bald Soprano, Taipei Time, in which the characters live in constant fear that Chinese contemporary artist Cai Guoqiang (蔡國強), who often works with gunpowder, has planted explosives across the country, and that Taiwan is going to explode.
Each showing of A Crash Course on Modern Theater is comprised of all three plays and lasts three hours with two intermissions.