Ethnic Theater - Chinese
The Yangtze Repertory Theatre at Theatre of America at the Theatre for the New City, Manhattan
“Luo Shen” will appeal primarily to a specialized audience, namely those fluent in Mandarin. But overhead translations are available in English, and there are certainly compensations for the outsider, who finds himself immersed in an exotic world.
“Luo Shen” (written and directed by Joanna Chan) is an historic drama which deals with the fortunes of a mighty Chinese dynasty. It takes place around 200 A.D., China’s golden age when the country first became united. Its leaders were warriors who were also brilliant poets and philosophers.
Against this background, the tale of star-crossed lovers evolves. Cao Zhi, the favored son of Prime Minister Cao Cao, falls in love with Zhen Mi, the captive widow of a rival warlord. As spoils of war she is given, not to Cao Zhi, but to his elder brother. Thus a Romeo-and-Juliet story plays out, with its inevitably tragic ending. But Chinese writers differ from Shakespeare in that the poet Cao Zhi immortalizes his love as the river goddess. Legend has it that Zhen Mi was the inspiration for the real-life Cao Zhi’s famous “Ode to the Nymph of the River Luo.”
Joanna Chan, artistic director and co-founder of the Yangtze Rep, gives a lyrical interpretation to this production through dialogue, narration, and dance. Chan uses a minimum of props and stage sets, possibly limited by budget and TNC’s pocket-size stage, but her principle actors, all of whom have had notable careers in China, compensate. And Harrison HouJian Xu’s costumes are lavish and presumably authentic for that era.
Although the production is slow getting off the ground, and generally slow-moving, the plight of the lovers is ultimately heart-rending. William YueKun Wu and YiLing Li are particularly appealing in the lead roles, with YiLing Li moving like a graceful swan through her dance pieces.
-- Irene Backalenick
June 12, 2006