A play that ‘tortures’ its actors

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Fri, Oct 24, 2008 - Page 14


Whenever Denny Wu (吳定謙) encountered difficulty translating David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, he would recall Dharma Drum Mountain (法鼓山) Master Sheng Yen’s (聖嚴法師) four precepts for problem-solving.

“We are always dealing with [setbacks],” Wu said before a run-through of the play last week. “You know it and you accept it and you deal with it and you leave it,” he said, paraphrasing Yen’s philosophy.

The connection between Yen’s philosophy of dealing with adversity and the play’s central theme of coming to terms with the death of a loved one intersect and inform Wu’s translation of Lindsay-Abaire’s 2006 work that deals with sorrow, which is Green Ray Theater’s (綠光劇團) most recent adaptation of a Western play.

“There is always a sense of loss … You feel pain at first. It hurts but you have to pass through it and no matter how hard it is you have to work at resolving it … that is something that Lindsay-Abaire reveals in the play,” he said.

Wu, who is new to the directorial chair, has worked on or translated a number of scripts for Green Ray, most recently Proof. The challenge with Rabbit Hole, he said, wasn’t so much the directing but translating the play in a way to retain the dialogue-heavy nuance and tear-jerking pathos of the original.

Wu said that because of its emotional intensity, “It’s a play that tortures the actors.” After watching the run-through, it is easy to understand why.

The opening scene sets the tone of the play, with Becca folding the clothes of her young son, who died eight months previously. Though the audience is unaware of the tragedy, a silent sadness overwhelms the scene.

Gwen Yao (姚坤君) reveals herself to be one of Taiwan’s more accomplished stage actors in the lead role of the grieving mother, a character that requires the actress to juggle several disparate emotions at once. She delivered a performance of quiet rage that avoided melodramatic bathos.

Becca’s inability to overcome her sadness unintentionally alienates her husband, Howie, played by Wang Yao-ching (王耀慶), who maintains a nuanced performance of remaining sympathetic to his wife while trying to hold back the frustration he feels because she monopolizes the couple’s sorrow.

Cheng Kai-yun (鄭凱云), who plays the man who accidentally hit and killed the boy, doesn’t manage to evoke feelings of guilt and looks more like a dog who’s been caught peeing on the carpet. Similarly, Becca’s sister, played by Lin Wei-i (林微弋) doesn’t quite capture the struggle between mourning her sister’s loss and celebrating her own pregnancy.

The set accurately recreates a middle-class American home, with its fully stocked fridge and toys scattered about, which lends a sense of homey verisimilitude — ironic in the context of a family that is falling apart