Kitchen Farce (1993)
Every dog has his day.
Tears and laughter. It has been that way in Taiwan since May 7, 1993, when Performance Workshop opened Kitchen Farce, a theatrical experience as poignant as chopping up an Onion. The quirky play, which toured the island for two months, debuted May 7 in Taipei's Cultural Center as part of the 1993 Taipei International Drama Festival. Kitchen Farce is an adaptation of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular, which has been staged 973 times in London and 592 times in New York since opening in 1972.
"A precise and brilliant comedy," Stan Lai, Performance Workshop founder and artistic director, said of Ayckbourn's three-act play.
Lai, who did the adaptation, said Absurd Person Singular was chosen because it is an excellent theatrical work, and because it had never been staged before in a Chinese-speaking society. Like the original, the version by Taiwan's leading contemporary theatrical company focuses on the lives of three different couples during several Christmases. Lai, who adapted the play, changed the time span from three to 10 years and localized the social references. The couples' changes during the decade make a profound statement on the absurdities of life. Their leaps and plummets in social status represent the emergence of "the Taiwan-style upstart," said Chen Li-hua, who directed the play.
Kitchen Farce presented new production challenges for Chen, being very different from his previous creations.
"There is great complexity in the play's technological side. It looks simple. But actually, it's more complicated than any other play I've been involved in," he said.
Performance Workshop's talented actors handle the difficult production admirably. The fun yet didactic play stirs the emotions in such a way that the audience cannot help but contemplate the nature of personal relationships and social problems.
"Perhaps our version even surpasses the original," Chen suggested.
Performance Workshop's stage design deserves as much praise as the skilled deportment of its actors. A long, narrow stage is used to pull the audience in close to the performers, enhancing the dramatic effect.
The story unfolds completely within the confines of the kitchens of the three families. All the set changes in the entertaining, thought-provoking play are executed merely by repositioning kitchen tables and chairs.
"It's just like playing a game of permutation," said director Chen.
The outstanding debut of Kitchen Farce adds another feather to the cap of Taiwan's Performance Workshop, a troupe already of some renown in Asia.
Performance Workshop offers "the most exciting theater in the Chinese-speaking world," claimed the Far Eastern Economic Review.
The troupe's productions are "evidence that Taiwan is creating the boldest Chinese art in Asia today," Newsweek reported.
Lai, the creative force behind the company, has been praised by the Japanese TV network NHK as Taiwan's "most brilliant theatrical light."
The 39-year-old artistic director won the ROC's National Arts Award in 1988 and was named one of the nation's Ten Outstanding Young Men in 1989.
Last October, Lai won a silver medal in the Tokyo Film Festival's young directors competition for his first movie, Peach Blossom Land.
This April, the Lai-directed film outclassed 44 other entries to receive the Calgary Prize in the Berlin Film Festival's non competitive Forum section. Peach Blossom Land is the first Chinese-language movie to win the prize in its seven-year existence.
Peach Blossom Land is based on Lai's successful play of the same name. Performance Workshop has staged the play in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and the United States.
Founded in 1985, Performance Workshop has produced dozens of other innovative original plays, using different actors and directors. Its productions under artistic director Lai number 15.
Inspired through improvisation and refined in rehearsal, the finished plays are always powerful and full of energy and depth. Be they zany or grim – or both – the productions strive to improve society by illuminating social predicaments.
Besides Peach Blossom Land (1986), other original box-office hits by the company include The Night We Became Crosstalk Comedians (1985) and Strange Tales from Taiwan (1991). Among its foreign adaptations is a production of Arthur Miller's American classic, Death of a Salesman.
Through the hilarious farce, the audience sees how fortunes change as the different social classes seek to utilize and subvert each other. Lee Li-chun, Ismene Ting, Deng An-ning and newly-crowned Taiwan Television Golden Bell Best Actress Award Winner Hsiao Ai, led the strong cast.
Script: Alan Ayckbourn
Translation and Adaptation: Stan Lai
Sun Pao-kui as Ho Cheng-cheng
Deng An-ning as Chen Chieh-fei
Hsiao Ai as Chen Ai-hua
Michael Chuan-cheng Tao as Szeto Lung-an
Ismene Ting as Mary Szeto
Lee Li-chun as Ho Ta-hsi
Scenic and Lighting Design: Samuel Wang
Costumes: Li Wei-hui
Producer: Nai-chu Ding
World Premier: May 7, 1993, Taipei Cultural Centre
Toured Cities: Taichung, Chungli, Tainan, Keelung