On Saturday, the revival of Kenneth Pai’s (白先勇) theater production Wandering in the Garden, Waking From a Dream (遊園驚夢) played to an enthusiastic if rather thin audience at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (國父紀念館). Individually there were many fine performances, but a lack of ensemble chemistry and some minor technical issues made the whole something less than the sum of its parts.
According to producer Hsu Po-yun (許博允), there had been difficulties obtaining permission for the four guest stars from China to appear in the production. Yang Qing (楊青) and Chen Qiang (陳強), both rated as performers of the first rank, had small but important roles, and their stage presence shone through. Kun opera (崑曲) star Shen Dieli (沈昳麗) also had her moment, singing a key aria from The Peony Pavilion (牡丹亭) that established the mood of intense longing and nostalgia that is such an important part of the play.
The main members of the local cast also put in strong performances, with the multi-talented veteran Hu Jin (胡錦) providing most of the humor, pulling out all the stops as the vulgar and shameless Mrs Jiang. Hu performed in the play’s debut 29 years ago, and looked very much at home, though a little unsteady in her high heels. Her air of vaudeville abandon, as joyful as it was to watch, was somewhat out of keeping with the more restrained acting style of the Chinese cast.
The star of the show was undoubtedly Beijing opera diva Wei Hai-min (魏海敏), who showed she could go head to head with even the very best stage actors. She also had the opportunity to show off her operatic talent in two arias that elicited spontaneous applause.
Unfortunately, for all their considerable skills, there were only a few moments when the dramatic potential of the story was fully realized on stage. The story requires an intense intimacy whereby unspoken emotions linger in the air, and it was this claustrophobic mood, so necessary to the full expression of the story, that was missing.
The hurried preparation for this production could also be seen in the less than perfect lighting cues and the struggle to control sound levels as performers moved from their regular speaking voice to various styles of operatic recitation and singing. These technical issues seem to be an ongoing problem with productions at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and it seems that this is something that the venue seems unable or unwilling to do anything about.
The production embarks on a 100-performance tour of China and Hong Kong beginning in December.