Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Wild Land"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark

"The Wild Land"

by Cao Yu
English Adaptation by Doris C. J. Chu
Directed by Jackie Romeo

Set Design by Brian McNeil
Lighting Design by Christopher Rigney
Costume Design by Doris Chu
Stage Manager Emily Yim

Pei, the Idiot Doghead......Porter McDonald
Tiger (Chou Hu)....................Francis Elliott
Mrs. Jiao............................Margaret Moore
Jin-zi....................................Priscilla Ovalle
Da-Xing...................................John Bowen
Chang Wu..........................Michael Abdow

Theater companies in China often do western plays, translated into Chinese, with Oriental actors, yet trying to convey to their Chinese audiences the flavor of those western originals. It was in that spirit that Doris C. J. Chu translated a 1930's classic play by Cao Yu into English, and had Jacqueline Romero direct a cast of Americans in "The Wild Land". The result is a forceful, stylized tale of vengeance and passion wherein emotion itself seems, metaphorically, to be a wild land full of wonders.

The eastern flavor of this performance comes in the directness with which each character expresses emotions, so that each aspect of these people is apparent in turn. In the dialogues, now one person seems to shine, now another. And each person, as their emotions change, can appear laudable or selfish by turns.

In the plot, Chou Ho called Tiger (Francis Elliot) escapes after eight years in prison to deal with the widow (Margaret Moore) of the warlord who sent him there. He finds his sweetheart (Priscilla Ovalle) married to the warlord's son (John Bowen). The blind widow is a suspicious autocrat, the son a weakling torn between the wife he adores and the mother her fears, and only the enormity of his acts of vengeance can taint Tiger's plans.

The play is enlivened by two comic characters --- the buffoon Pei (Porter McDonald) even whose mother calls him Dog Head, and the old drunkard Chang Wu (Michael Abdow). These two have some of the most stylized physical actions to perform, though every character has a unique stance and style. The young wife trades on her charms with both husband and lover, the widow uses her position as matriarch to demand everyone's respect, and weak husband and strong lover play out their fate as their pasts decree.

That wild land which is the forest setting for act three is full of outward ghosts and inner terrors. On Brian McNeil's spare stage, a few bare branches evokes a forest, and a few tables and chairs a house. Add Doris Chu's precise yet simple costumes and the sound-effects by Yih-Jian Tai to Christopher Rigney's lighting and these actors indeed provide us round-eyed spectators with a Chinese experience: a foreign play, done by Americans in English, that eloquently captures the flavors of the original.


"The Wild Land" (till 28 March)
Tremont Theatre, 276 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(627)524-4599 1(617)824-8000

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide