Kenneth Pai’s (白先勇) Crystal Boys (孽子), published in 1983, is a novel about Taipei’s homosexual community in the 1960s. These days, director Tsao Jui-yuan (曹瑞原) is working on its stage adaptation — a venture so eagerly anticipated that over 80 percent of tickets have already been sold.
But Tsao isn’t looking ahead too far. He’s just taking things day by day. For him, the process of stage adaptation is a delicate negotiation between himself and the author, one that’s simply not to be rushed.
Pai is a perfectionist in his pursuit of art, Tsao said at a public lecture with the author last month.
The father is always worried. He intends to guide the child and offers protection, whereas the child wishes to gain the father’s trust and get his own way, he said.
During the adaptation process, Tsao offered up many of his ideas for updating the classic novel. Some got nowhere with Pai; a few did. In one notable change, Tsao cast Taiwanese opera singer Tang Mei-yun (唐美雲) in the role of Mob Boss Yang (楊教頭), who in Pai’s novel is an older gay man who looks after the band of young and adrift homosexuals in New Park (新公園), now the 228 Peace Memorial Park (二二八和平紀念公園).
The director believed that making the male mob boss a lesbian instead would infuse the role with additional warmth. For weeks, he dared not mention the idea to Pai, fearful of how he would take it.
This gender-bending casting isn’t the only innovation. This version of Crystal Boys features a theme song written by lyricist Albert Leung (林夕). Mandopop singer Aska Yang (楊宗緯) will sing it live at the premiere.
In addition, the show will bring emotions to life with dance.
“We needed actors who can dance well, because the ‘crystal boys’ [gay community] in New Park reveal their struggles and desire in the form of dance,” he said.
What: Crystal Boys (孽子)
When: Feb. 7, 8, 12-15 at 7:30pm; Feb. 9 and Feb. 16 at 2:30pm
Where: National Theater (國家戲劇院), 21-1 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)
Admission: NT$600 to NT$3,800 through NTCH ticketing and online at www.artsticket.com.tw
Billy Chang (張逸軍) — a former member of Cirque du Soleil — will play A-feng (阿鳳), one of the key characters in the novel.
The production will also feature a group of male dancers from Taipei National University of the Arts’ (TNUA) Focus Dance Company, as well as choreography by TNUA associate professor Wu Su-chun (吳素君).
Tsao said that during the process of adapting the novel for the stage and finding new ways to express the story, he built something of a father-son connection with Pai.
“I never had a male role model in my life since my father passed on when I was six. Until Pai showed up and we started working together. I see him as a father. Hence I care very much how he thinks,” Tsao said. Crystal Boys, which premieres on Feb. 7, will be his first theater project.
At the public lecture in Taipei last month, Pai said that Tsao had gradually earned his trust.
“He has a good grasp of the sense of literary works ... and that counts more than stage directing experience,” Pai said.