Adultery, adapted

By Liao Fangzhou Source:Global Times Published: 2016/5/17 18:42:37

The story of The Open Couple, which Italian playwright Dario Fo co-wrote with wife Franca Rame in 1983, is downright simple and sarcastic: a husband with endless "purely physical" affairs encourages his destructively jealous wife to try extramarital romance, but becomes suicidal when she has a better lover.

Eric Lee, a theater literature lecturer with the Shanghai Theatre Academy, is now bringing the show to Shanghai. The Global Times interviewed Lee a week before the debut.

Lee localized the script. England, where the wife and the lover travel to in the original, is swapped for his hometown Taiwan.

He also references the entertainment industry, changing the lover's profession from a Nobel-nominated nuclear professor to an Oscar-nominated actor.

A scene from The Open Couple Photos: Courtesy of Yin Xuefeng

An original extension

His more original inventions include adding an opening and an ending to extend the play to 80 minutes.

The opening sees a wedding, during which the priest asks the partners whether they'll take the other as a "lawful, wedded" spouse. He asks three times - and the wife gives a very determined "I do" to each, but the husband shows increasing wavering.

Though the husband shoots himself at the end of the original play, Lee wanted to leave it more open-ended.

"The wife fires a few gunshots throughout the play before that, and nobody was killed. Then why should this last shooting necessarily mean death?" Lee asked.

He also said he felt the need to simplify what he believes to be "the more symbolic and subtler part" of the text, namely, a lyric by the lover and amateur songwriter: a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.

"It is a feminist message with a twist, one that many in the audience might have problems getting right away, especially when the rest of the text is so straightforward and there is no highlight on this sentence," Lee said.

Instead, he uses "Lovely Woman," Taiwanese singer Jay Chou's well-known song that describes in details the loveliness of a woman that makes him obsessed.

One wonders why this would be an appropriate substitute for the professor's composition, but Lee said the twist lies in that the lyrics are in fact written by a woman singer and actress, Vivian Hsu.

"I don't need plain feminism, but a vibe and a presence, which can be offered by a song about a woman that is written by a woman," Lee said.

The play is Lee's first commercial directorial work. He spent nine years in France studying performing arts from a bachelor's degree to a PhD, and began working as a faculty member with the Shanghai Theatre Academy in 2014.

After good reviews from his two directorial works done in cooperation with his students and colleges, Vertebra Theatre offered him The Open Couple.

"I like to feel that it is plays that bump into me, instead of me looking for plays. If I can see images once I give it a read, I do it. It feels ritualistic," Lee said.

A poster for the show

Improvisational spirit

Lee said a major problem with Chinese theater today is that actors still tend to overact, and he sought to rid that from his cast. His solution is training emphasizing improvisation.

"Everyone is being dramatic, and call it realistic drama. When the local audience didn't get the opportunity to see overseas theater four or five years ago, people thought that is performing arts.

"But now it is different; even plays by the Beijing People's Art Theatre are laughed at. It is not because they don't have good technique, but that the aesthetics today is no longer about displaying technique," Lee noted.

His direction merges training methods of eight stage directors, especially that of Ariane Mnouchkine and Peter Brook. He studied all of them thoroughly for his dissertation.

"When it comes to training professional actors, I take my time observing what techniques their bodies bring out, and see if it is too much, or insufficient. I compare field notes every night, and try to help them get rid of or make use of that technique through small improvisation practices," Lee said.

He has trained two couples of performers for the play, one middle-aged and one just out of university.

"The younger group might appear nervous onstage and far less mature and fluent in their delivery, but I don't think that means they are doing it wrong or poorer. It is a story that would look quite different in terms of the age of the protagonists," Lee said.

Date: Wednesday to June 5

Venue: Studio D6, Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre

Address: 288 Anfu Road 安福路288号

Tickets: 180 yuan ($27.59) to 380 yuan

Call 6473-0123 for details

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, Theater, Culture

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