Love in a fallen city

By Huang Yuanfan Source:Global Times Published: 2014-2-11 18:13:01

Myth or fact, stereotype has it that Shanghai women are well-educated, open-minded yet ultra-sensitive and fiercely independent.

The new play Miss Shanghai is set in 1948, the final year that the Kuomintang (KMT) controlled the city, when the financial center suffered from severe inflation, students were striking on the streets (and shot) and citizens were losing faith in the KMT but were also in fear of the seemingly unstoppable advance of the Communist army.

Stage photos from Miss Shanghai Photos: Courtesy of Dajin Media

"I chose 1948 as the setting because I think a certain spirit of the old Republic of China has been lost," Chen Tianran, the play's writer and director, told the Global Times. "But on the other hand, women now are confronted with a similar situation. They are free to make a choice when the big changes of time and values come."

The title character Li Rongrong is an archetypal Miss Shanghai. She works as a secretary at a publishing house run by an intellectual, Pan Zhihong, who often recites beautiful lines by Indian poet Tagore in the office and is respected by Li as a father figure since Li's own father, also a romantic scholar, died many years ago.

Pan is disillusioned and tired of politics, preferring to "just dream in a nutshell" than take sides. He embarks on a clandestine love affair with the sophisticated Chen Shasha, an older sister figure to Li in the office, who tells Li that "love is the most unfree thing."

Stage photos from Miss Shanghai Photos: Courtesy of Dajin Media

Soon Li is caught in her own romantic dilemma. She is wooed by handsome worker Wei Ming, who also recites Tagore's poems and might be a Communist, and pursued by a dentist who is reliable but boring, knowing basically nothing other than teeth. As the situation in Shanghai worsens, Li's mother commands Li to marry the dentist. But Li chooses Wei instead, caring little about who he is, a Communist or not.

But just like almost every love story doomed to end in tragedy, Li's choice triggers a series of unintended consequences, which puts everyone she loves at stake.

"As they say, life is a circle. So is a woman's fate. To me it's all the same, in the past or now, a woman is easily cheated by men, for all sorts of reasons, not necessarily political ones," Hu Yufei, the actress who plays Li, said. 

"Apparently it's a feminist play. Men and women have very different reactions to the play. I think women are always survivors. But they are also the most brutally hurt. You can say they are sort of selfish. They just care more about life than sides," Chen explained.

A feverish reader of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Eileen Chang, Chen pays tribute to Chang with the opening scene on a tram running across the stage. In terms of plot, Miss Shanghai is hardly groundbreaking, but that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. Old stories can be told in new ways as long as the choice between loving and living remains tough.

Date: Until February 23

Venue: Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre上海话剧艺术中心

Address: 288 Anfu Road 安福路288号6楼

Tickets: 120 to 280 yuan

Call 6328-5188 for details

Posted in: Metro Shanghai

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