Webs of deceit

By Liao Fangzhou Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-21 17:38:01

Taiwan director investigates lies and human nature in new play

"It doesn't look like a work of Li Tsung-hsi's at all, but in fact this is the real me," Li Tsung-hsi (pictured below), the Taiwanese director famous for depicting the warmth and bliss of familial relationships, said of his new play Lies.

This time, dishonesty and mistrust are under scrutiny.

Li got the initial idea for Lies from a dream he had when he was having a hard time writing another play. He spent eight hours on the first draft, followed by continuous revisions.

"The play as it is today has richer, and in some cases totally new, characters. I revised under the principle of rendering the play more forceful. I hoped to turn the story into a needle that penetrates," Li told the Global Times.

Li graduated from Shanghai Theater Academy's directing department, and later taught drama in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. He founded his own troupe in 2000.

Faking identity

The 110-minute play begins as Bai Suxiang (Jiangmu Yuanjian), a young woman fired for speaking truthfully in her workplace and left by her boyfriend during late pregnancy, befriends a couple on a train.

The wife is also in the late stages of pregnancy. The pair are on their way to the husband's hometown, a tea village.

A road accident leaves the couple dead, and Bai decides to impersonate the woman and start a new life at the man's place. She struggles to hoodwink everyone there, and over time, she discovers they are all telling lies of their own.

Li said every thread of the story was more or less inspired by his personal experience, as he used to lie a lot.

Over time, however, he felt lies are not just "layers that protect people from hurting and getting hurt," but also that they keep people distant from each other.

He said he quit lying two years ago. "I look more like a child than a director now. I think one needs to stop pretending if they are to see things more thoroughly and have a deeper understanding of human nature."

A scene from the play Lies Photos: Courtesy of Sheng Jiayin

Painstaking work

The play is loaded with complex inner struggles, which makes rehearsals exhausting for both the director and the cast as they try to dig deeper into the characters.

"These actors are extremely sensitive, and the digging greatly stimulates their own emotions and helps them get to the souls of the characters," Li said.

He is particularly pleased with Jiangmu, an actress he has worked with in a number of plays, for she managed to perform without needing to refer back to the script right from the first rehearsal.

Yu Xiaolin, who plays the husband Tianci, is a musical actor and lead of the Chinese version of Mamma Mia!.

He improvised a lot of physical movement for Tianci, making the scene in which he falls in love with his wife-to-be more poetic and romantic.

Metaphorical design

Li uses multiple elements to narrate the story, such as music, video, mime, puppetry and shadow work.

"After you have been directing for quite some time, you start to feel bored with yourself, and therefore want to try new forms of expression. As I age and have more life experience, my directing comes more and more from instinct rather than academic training," Li explained.

The music Li selected for the play is similarly eclectic. It includes legendary singer Teresa Teng's "See the Chimney Smoke Again," Jody Jiang's Hokkien hit "Red Line," and Moulin Rouge-style music.

Another highlight is the simple and metaphorical set design, which was praised when the play was performed in Beijing late last year.

For example, there is a web over the tea village set when Bai first arrives. Every time she tells a lie, leaves fall from the ceiling and onto the web - a physical manifestation of the increasing burden the cumulative lies are creating.

Sunny Chen, a user of culture reviewing website douban.com, said the work drags somewhat and goes a long way to tell a very simple moral idea. Others called it "didactic."

But Li says that he is not trying to force any conclusions upon the audience. "We see Lies as a mirror that presents our world, and we don't provide straightforward answers. The audience is left to reflect and find the answers on their own," Li said.

Date: January 28 to 30, 7:30 pm, January 31, 2 pm

Venue: Shanghai People's Theatre

Address: 663 Jiujiang Road 九江路663号

Tickets: 100 yuan ($15.20) to 480 yuan

Call 6132-6586 for details

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, Theater, Culture

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