Sunday, September 12, 2010

《崖上風景》(The Cliffside) 創劇團 Genesis Ensemble

I saw the Friday night performance of this modern play, as part of the "Taipei Fringe Festival" (臺北藝穗節) on the 11th September 2010. I didn't know exactly what to expect, as I hadn't seen any of the advertisements or the blurb, as my friend bought my ticket and I said yes on the spur of the moment. I've been to several of the experimental or amateur theatre performances in Taipei, often without knowing the titles in advance, with very mixed results. I remember sitting through a very low tech play about aliens that was possibly the worst play I've ever seen. Another play contrasted traditional opera performance with modern life, a lot of which was incomprehensible; Yet another was a well directed but weak plotted play set to the music of Chen Qizhen (陳綺貞).

The most interesting was when I turned up for "Human Condition III" (人間條件III) and despite not anticipating that the whole thing would be in Taiwanese, I was really moved by the performance (albeit this was not experimental).

I arrived in the theatre which was near the Huashan Creative Park (華山), due to the limits of this space, the different scenes of the play were all incorporated on to one stage, one behind the other as you viewed from the audience perspective. There was a projector used also to incorporate video into the performance. On arrival at the theatre I started to worry. There was a white kid in a wheelchair flashing up on screen with a Chinese explanation next to it that was too small to read from my seat in the back row. It was a play inspired by real life events my friend told me, and briefly whispered something about a broken neck before the play crawled into action. This led me to conclude that the plot would be about the heroic life of a young disabled child, which didn't appeal to me, in that I don't have much capability for pity at the best of times, especially when used as a blatant sentimental appeal to the heart strings.

The story turned out to be slightly different from what I had expected. It dealt with how the true story of a white foreigner and his Japanese wife jumped from a cliff to "join" their son after his death affected a pregnant Taiwanese woman and her husband who subsequently miscarry.

The couple were not very believable in their affection for each other, and there were too many glasses of water offered by the husband to the wife (My friend felt compelled to draw a cartoon satirizing this compulsion to solve any dispute with a glass of water). Towards the end, after the miscarriage there was a moment when I started to believe the couple, during quite a graphic argument, but the stage design left me an unfortunate view of the back stage staff chatting idly backstage while all this drama was going on. There was also some sort of Taiwanese broadcast going on just outside the theatre which lent a comic edge to the "tense" silences between the couple.

To summarize, the play was an immature approach to the topic matter, which was emphasized in one of the questions in the questionnaire they gave out at the play:

"Do you think this play was brave in its topic matter?"

I didn't think the play was brave. I remember a drama assignment in class when I was 15, requiring each student to come up with a monologue. The topic of every single girl in our class (suggesting a severe lack of imagination) was abortion or miscarriage, the melodrama of the topic matter was boring. A different maybe even a humorous approach to the topic matter would have been more refreshing, but no, it was 90 minutes, of humourless, interminable (well I did say 90 minutes but interminable in experiential time) discussion between a couple, who I didn't even particularly feel inclined to like.

Miscarriages and abortions are common, and many people in my circle have dealt with them, I felt the emphasis on the drama of the situation was very un-Taiwanese, in the way that Wu Nianzhen describes Taiwaneseness in his advertisements: deliberate burying or shame linked to showing emotion. He describes this with the following example. A dad goes in late at night to look at his child, taking pleasure in the sight of his sleeping child, and we hear his wife's voice asking him where he's gone, and he replies gruffly "便所啦!" (The toilet). Not that I can dictate what is or is not Taiwanese, but this play lacked any flicker of ethnic consciousness, and could equally have come from the melodramatic imaginings of any 15 year old girl.

One of my friends told me a story recently which I thought would be an interesting companion to this review. She's had two abortions, on her second abortion she asked the doctor to give her the foetus afterwards so that she could bury it with a small ceremony. She put it in the refrigerator and forgot about it for a month until it surfaced in an argument with her mum when her mum challenged her saying "You think I don't know what's in that jar in the fridge?". Obviously abortion is different from miscarriage, but the story was told in a very light hearted tone, that interested me a lot more than the "hard hitting" excess of drama festering throughout the hour and a half and 7 glasses of water.

Play Rating: 2/5 (Aliens was 1)

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