There’s never a dull moment at the Dark Eyes Performance Lab (黑眼睛跨劇團). Led by poet, filmmaker and playwright Yen Hung-ya (閻鴻亞) — best-known by his pen name Hung Hung (鴻鴻) — the troupe’s end-of-year production presents not one but two plays back-to-back for three weekends on the same stage.
The joint production is called Das Zauberhaus (The Magic House, 換屋計畫), a name that draws inspiration from German novelist Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain.
Hung Hung combines French playwright Jean-Claude Carriere’s The Terrace and his award-winning script The Phantom of Liberty.
“The two plays don’t seem related at first glance. By putting them on the same stage, their central themes reflect each other, and the audience will find out the connections after seeing both,” Hung Hung told the Taipei Times on Tuesday.
The two plays take place in a house, where its inhabitants grow apart or grow up. The Terrace depicts a couple going through breakup. They find their apartment intruded upon by strangers who are searching for a new home.
In The Phantom of Liberty, three members of a writer-in-residence program interact and discuss personal experiences with one another within a house. Over time, the house becomes different things for them: a site of freedom, constraint, comfort, war and tension.
The director said that The Phantom of Liberty tackles key issues in Taiwan such as the anti-nuclear movement, same-sex marriage and social changes resulting from the suppression of political dissidents during the White Terror period.
At the end, the writers find themselves in a park, one that resembles the more than 70 temporary parks created by the government’s Taipei Beautiful (台北好好看) program.
The program offers incentives to those who turn their old building into a green space for 18 months. After that, the land may be purchased by developers who will construct high-rise buildings.
During the scene, Hung Hung’s thoughts on urban renewal become clear.
“In general, people swap houses to improve their living environment ... but that’s not always the case. Say, you are forced to leave your house because of an urban renewal plan implemented by government,” said Hung Hung.
Actors in Das Zauberhaus are preparing to perform the two plays back-to-back.
Actress Vera Chen (陳雪甄) finds the double load a challenge. She jumps from a modern woman in her thirties in The Terrace to a forty-something woman who yearns to be younger in The Phantom of Liberty.
“The texture of my characters varies. I interpret them differently in terms of the state of mind and the way they talk and walk,” Chen said.
Wu Kun-da (吳昆達), an actor who often plays opposite Chen, feels less burdened than he expected.
“The difference in the tone and ambience of the two scripts made the roles less difficult to interpret. It would be challenging if they were more similar,” he said.
Wu added that the link between the two scripts didn’t emerge until he entered the theater and ran through both plays on the same stage.
Together, the two-play combination delivers Hung Hung’s thoughts on liberty, but he says that watching them as separate plays won’t cause a problem.
The director said he brings characters from The Terrace to The Phantom of Liberty in the latter’s final scene.
“That’s when the two become one, but I hope the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Hung Hung said.