Play the Violin (拉提琴) is a new production by alternative theater group Creative Society (創作社) that once again puts challenging avant-garde theater onto the stage of Taipei’s most prestigious performance venue. The theater group, which is known for its ability to attract top level talent, has, on this occasion, enlisted the services of literary heavyweight Chi Wei-jan (紀蔚然) as playwright, and brought in Lu Po-shen (呂柏伸), the artistic director of the Tainaner Ensemble (台南人劇團), to direct.
According to Chi, “play the violin” is a colloquial phrase that refers to an exaggerated expression that verges on toying with the truth. It suggests that the person speaking is at some level putting on a performance, an aspect that links up with a contemporary society in which many feel that they are constantly being watched, that their actions and words are recorded. This awareness, especially among public figures, means that nothing they say and do can be taken at face value, for it is all, to some extent, a form of performance.
Play the Violin tells the story of Liu San, an academic who has been stuck in the same position for the last decade and has lost whatever drive and ambition he may ever have had. He is despised by his wife, an insurance saleswoman who may also be having an extramarital affair, and deplored by his mother for his lack of achievement. When a friend commits suicide in bazaar circumstances, and Liu becomes caught up in the investigation, his lack of connection with the real world reaches new heights.
Lead performer Fan Guang-yao (樊光耀) said that the play focuses on the disconnect between Taiwan’s intellectuals and society. “When faced with social chaos, the majority of intellectuals will do nothing more than try to escape reality with phrases such as ‘it doesn’t matter,’ while others simply refuse to see what is before their eyes,” he said.
Director Lu said that people like himself, who are in their 50s and have experienced the effects of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) language policy (forbidding the use of Taiwanese) and lived through the martial law era are all too familiar with the sense of powerlessness and emasculation that the play explores.
The play uses mime artists and projections to create a complex, multilayered stage environment that reflects the multiple levels created by the script. There are some echoes of movies like Inception, but played out against a background of modern Taiwanese history and a feeling that Taiwan’s hard-won freedoms have become a breeding ground in which lies, half-truths and spin are used a substitute for reality.
Playing the Violin has plenty of humor, though the comedy is dark, and arises out of the murky depths of a society that is out of kilter with itself. This topical edginess is enhanced by Lu, who has created a theatrical environment that allows the performers plenty of opportunities to play on the dangerous cutting edge of contemporary theater.