Joanna Chan, Artistic Director
WELCOME TO YANGTZE THEATRE OF AMERICA
Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America was founded in 1992 to produce works for and by Asian artists. Since then, it has become New York's most significant entry point for dramatic works from Chinese-speaking countries and a place of collaboration for artists from various parts of Asia.
"The Soongs: by Dreams Betrayed" at Hong Kong Repertory Theatre
production by Hong Kong
JANUARY 4, 2014
Before Somosa Gacia of Nicaragua, before the Shah of Iran, before Fernando and Imelda Marcos of Philippines, there were the Soongs.
The three-act drama spans five decades of the tumultuous history of contemporary China, tracing the rise and ultimate defeat of the first Chinese Republic through the lives and times of the three famous Soongs sisters: Ching-ling who became the wife of Dr. Sun Yat-San, Father of the 1911 Revolution; May-ling, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek; and the eldest, Ai-ling, wife of H. H. Kung, Finance Minister of Chiang's Nationalist government.
The play begins with the Soong patriarch who, as a nine-year old stowaway from South China, was taken under the patronage of Methodist missioners in Boston and groomed for the conversion of China.
We follow the emergence of his children, especially his three daughters, onto the world stage amidst towering figures including Mao Tse-Tung and Chou En-Lai.
The epic examines the responsibility of the populace in the rise of tyranny, the myth-making machine of modern media, and the delusion of both the missionary movement and U.S. foreign policy.
NEW YORK TIMES
November 16, 2006
Oedipus Max: Four Nights of Anguish and Applause
in Sing Sing
To enter a maximum-security prison to see inmates put on a Greek tragedy, in this case Oedipus Rex, at Sing Sing is to descend into an echo chamber of ironies. An ancient story of murder and banishment brought to life by banished murderers. Imaginary horrors summoned in solid flesh by men whose own stories are horrifying and real.
It’s a lot to ponder as you hand over wallet, keys, watch and train schedule at the prison entrance. As for your illusions and misperceptions about inmates and prison life, those you surrender inside.
I went to Sing Sing with the play’s director, Sister Joanna Chan of the Maryknoll order, whose headquarters is not far from the Hudson River bluffs on which Sing Sing has hunkered since the 1820s. Sister Joanna, who is petite, Chinese and in her 60s, had been working with the inmates since June, and Friday’s performance was the last in a four-night run. The cast and crew, serving time for murder, rape, robbery, assault and other crimes, called her Grandma.
We walked through long, low corridors to the auditorium, called the Chapel, with a high ceiling of exposed steel beams and the grimy yellow light of bare bulbs. Nuns and other visitors from town nibbled cheese cubes and drank coffee from paper cups. A few mingled with inmates, easy to pick out not by their air of menace but by their green pants.
There were jitters in the room, not in the audience but in the cast and crew, the bustling nerves of any amateur production. Previous nights had gone well, I was told. The play had even won over B-block, a brutal crowd. Tonight’s show was for guests, and the final chance to shine.
I met the assistant director, an inmate with a white skullcap and deep-set eyes who went by his Muslim name, Bilal. He told me how faith helped him to face his guilt in murder, and how theater polished the tarnished gem inside. Like other inmates I met, he had the taut intensity of someone gripping his beliefs tightly, so as not to let them get away.
Sing Sing, the former home of Old Sparky, is not widely known as a progressive place. But its theater program is a rarity in New York prisons. It relies on a nonprofit group, Rehabilitation Through the Arts, and the savvy benevolence of Sing Sing’s superintendent, Brian Fischer, who considers its virtues self-evident.
The inmates chose Oedipus Rex because they had done more than a dozen productions, including Jitney, by August Wilson, and wanted something really difficult. Sister Joanna persuaded them to choose Sophocles over Shakespeare, since it was more accessible and would fit in the maximum allowed two hours.
She took me backstage before the curtain rose. The cast
and crew held hands in a circle and prayed for a good show. Jocasta,
Oedipus’s wife and mother, was an actress from New York City
and the cast’s only non-inmate. She told everyone how proud
she was. Oedipus, with tongue-in-cheek pomposity, demanded silence
and offered encouragement. Please, let’s kill them all,"
he said. We all knew what he meant.
This production went to Greece by way of the five boroughs, as the ancients were summoned to be asked important questions about a foretold murder. But the men hit their marks precisely, and moved and spoke with elegance and conviction. If they were haunted by the play’s resonance in their lives, they didn’t show it. They seemed like people trying to produce art, and in so doing to somehow assert an identity better than the one of murderer, rapist, robber, that had overwhelmed all others.
As I watched, I wondered what it would be like to be defined by my own worst sins. It struck me that when people are locked up for horrible crimes, a lot of goodness and beauty necessarily get locked up too. It also seemed that the Theban society onstage, though afflicted by plague, vengeance and divine cruelty, was probably gentler and saner than the one the inmates knew. Its members clearly cared for one another, and were not numb to grief.
When Oedipus made his final entrance, blinded and lurching, from stage left, the Chorus trembled, and shock and sorrow rose on cue in the hushed auditorium, just as it has for the last 2,500 years.
Sister Joanna told me later that chorus members had been reluctant in rehearsal to touch one another, though they eventually got past it. Oedipus, a man of conspicuous self-control, had particular trouble losing it for his final breakdown, when he collapses into the arms of Creon, his uncle and brother-in-law. He didn’t pull it off until Monday’s dress rehearsal. On Friday, Sister Joanna thought she saw real tears.
After the curtain fell and the cheers and applause finally died, the crew joined the cast onstage, with officers quickly posted on the left and right steps. The inmates crowded the footlights, straining for the hands of audience members who filed slowly past to say thank you, great job, wonderful show. Clearing the room of visitors in small escorted groups took nearly an hour. The inmates never stopped chattering and hugging, their faces shining with relief, and with the yearning to savor every moment before the spell was broken and they were taken to their cells.
Review | Luna
Max Luna III took his audience on a winding ride on Friday night in choreography presented by the Yangtze Repertory Theater of America at the Schimmel Center at Pace University. The evening opened with two dances so blandly generic — though one, “Cold Song," featured a powerful performance by Jason Jordan — that you wondered not where the real Mr. Luna was hiding, but if he indeed existed.
Mr. Luna, a former Alvin Ailey dancer, emerged in two pieces that made it plain that he had something of his own to say and the skill to say it. He works in a modern-dance idiom colored by the traditional dancing of his native Philippines, represented in “Tinig Ng Lupa," the evening’s closing dance.
“The Hurt We Embrace," to music by Jan Kaczmarek, was a traditional wrecked-relationship duet, but the vagaries of love were observed and communicated with extra shrewdness in choreography performed with affecting intensity by Joseph Watson II and Roberta Sorrenti. Everything came together in Mr. Luna’s new “Mga Awit (A Love Cycle for Voice, Cello & Piano)," danced to music full of dramatic incident, composed by Michael Dadap and performed live by Sal Malaki (tenor), Marc Tagle (cello) and Cynthia Guerrero DeLeon (piano).
Mr. Luna’s program notes describe the piece as “dedicated to my partner, Alan, who has shown me that the miracle of love renews and grows through the cycles of life." The suite brims with cycles of growth and renewals, particularly in two group segments that stand out for their unexpected thrusts and patterns. Mr. Luna knows how to move his dancers and juxtapose them and his onstage musicians. The bright opening solo by Matt Anctil and a lush duet for Mr. Jordan and Mica Bernas are as authoritative, and feel as personal. Good dancers all, so why no program biographies?
LAO SHE'S "TEAHOUSE"
BY BEIJING PEOPLE'S ART THEATRE
Steeped in 50 Years of China's Subjugation
By WILBORN HAMPTON, NEW YORK TIMES
First performed in 1958, "Teahouse" has been a favorite work of one of China's favorite writers, before and after the Cultural Revolution. The current revival, which is performed in Mandarin with English supertitles and sponsored in New York by the Yangtze Repertory Theater, is playing a limited run that ends tonight at Pace Downtown Theater, 3 Spruce Street in Lower Manhattan.
The play covers 50 years of Chinese history, and a unifying theme that runs through it is the subjugation, often willing, of China to foreign interests and powers through the first half of the 20th century. Spending an evening at the Yutai teahouse with the Beijing Theater helps explain the excesses of Maoism.
All of the action takes place in the teahouse, owned by Wang Lifa. The cross section of its customers range from pimps, gangsters and opium addicts to rich idlers who bring songbirds in their cages for entertainment, government spies, secret policemen and rebels. Tea is not the only commodity sold there.
The first act takes place in 1898, on the eve of the Boxer Uprising, as the Qing dynasty is in its death throes and although the Yutai denizens still wear their hair in pigtails, British influence is paramount. Poverty in the countryside is rampant, and peasants go to the teahouse to sell their children to wealthy mandarins.
The second act jumps forward 20 years to the time just after the death of Yuan Shih-kai, the successor to Sun Yat-sen as head of the Chinese republic. Warlords, each backed by a foreign power, have split China apart and the country is in a state of perpetual civil war. Wang has tried to keep his teahouse intact by taking in students as boarders and adding entertainment by way of a gramophone. Many of his old customers still appear, but in vastly altered circumstances.
The final act takes place in 1948. The Japanese occupiers have left, but the Kuomintang, also under foreign influence, has again turned the tables on the teahouse's customers, many of them bynow the sons and daughters of those in Act I and some of whom want to tear down the teahouse and replace it with shops full of foreign goods.
If at one level "Teahouse" seems like a primer
on pre-Communist Chinese history, it is Lao She's development of his
characters over two generations that makes it exciting theater. A
stellar cast of about 30 give a brilliant master class in ensemble
acting, led by Liang Guanhua as Wang, Pu Cunxin as Master Chang and
Yang Lixin as Master Qin. This is the first visit to New York by the
Beijing People's Art Theater, and I hope it returns again soon.