The NTCH’s Innovation Series continues this week with Mary Marlin Jony Jonathan (瑪莉瑪蓮 — 強尼強納森), and followed next week by No Comment! Nonstop! (無可奉告 — 220.127.116.11.0.全面啟動). Young directors appraise the achievements and longevity of classic texts from Taiwan’s experimental theater, providing a chance for audiences to look back and assess where this kind of theater has got to after decades of development.
Opening tonight is Chen Shi-ying’s (陳仕瑛) interpretation of Mary Marlin Jony Jonathan, a play by the influential director Tien Chi-yuan (田啟元) and performed originally by Critical Point Theater Phenomenon (臨界點劇象錄劇團). Both the play and the company were important in pushing forward experimental theater in the 1990s, a time of great political ferment.
It was a time when battle lines were drawn, with the established norms of political and sexual power coming under attack from a new generation of artists who had been exposed to Western literary and political theory. Twenty years on from works like Mary Marlin Jony Jonathan, and Taiwanese society has changed, at least superficially.
“Things seem to have changed, but have they really?,” Chen asked. “At that time, these artists were criticizing the government. Now you just turn on the TV, and its full of critical talk about the government. Are we any better off for this? Many of the issues dealt with in the play are still very much part of modern society, they are simply expressed in a different way.”
Mary Marlin Jony Jonathan was inspired by Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, and was performed through the 1990s in a number of productions, each reflecting the subtle shifts in counter-culture activism.
“This play is about the relationship between lovers, including struggles and conflicts, and looks at how this influences how we act in society, or how we communicate with others. Everyone has some interest in how we respond to a lover, and this play expands this relationship to a wider social context,” Chen said.
The play explores the complex relationship between lovers that oscillate between various poles, from tenderness to revulsion, dependence to fury. The difficulty of expressing these emotions, which is central to the play, has acquired a new level as Mary Marlin Jony Jonathan enters the 21st century, an age characterized by communication technology. Chen said that this technology has not enhanced our ability to communicate.
Next week, the Innovation Series will draw to a close with a new production of No Comment! Nonstop! (無可奉告 — 18.104.22.168.0.全面啟動), a play by the doyen of Taiwan’s playwrights Chi Wei-ran (紀蔚然) that was first performed in 2001.
Chi is known for his acerbic humor and satirical take on society, and director Chen Chia-hsiang (陳家祥) opted to keep the original script of this decade-old play rather than updating it.
“In the original play, there are many references to current events, and I have retained these as stories that continue to exist. This turns it into an entirely new text. Using this device I can draw together past and present, the play from 2001 and the production in 2012, and we can observe what has changed and what has not. Often when we talk about things, we remain on the periphery of what we want to express and never get to the heart of the matter, which is about people and how we communicate. This is an issue that I think is very important.”
Chen said the importance of the original play for him was that it was a realization within a Taiwanese context of all the Western theory that the theatrical establishment in Taiwan has adopted.
“Chi was able to take all of this and use it in a play that had the experience of life in Taiwan as its point of departure,” Chen said.