Yangtze Rep to Present THE STORY OF YU-HUAN at TNC, 5/30-6/22

Yangtze Rep to Present THE STORY OF YU-HUAN at TNC, 5/30-6/22

Yu-Huan, of the House of Yang, has been an undiminished subject of literature and fine arts throughout thirteen centuries. Her death marked the end of 130 years of unprecedented prosperity in China's Middle Kingdom and a golden age of artistic outpourings. Her life story is the subject of "The Story of Yu-Huan" by Joanna Chan, to be presented by Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America May 30 to June 22 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th St.), directed by the author and choreographed by Ashley Liang.

This production will be Joanna Chan's final directing project for Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America. Chan, whose theatrical career spans over four decades, co-founded Yangtze Rep and led it as Artistic Director for 22 years. She will hand over leadership of the company on July 1 to the three-man team of K. K. Wong and Wayne Chang as Co-Artistic Directors and Jason HaoWen Wang as Executive Director, with Chan as Emeritus Director. She will continue writing for the theater, tend to publishing her 40 manuscripts, and resume painting.

Written by Chan in 1998, "The Story of Yu-Huan" centers on a woman who was born of royal lineage during the Tang Dynasty and trained as an artist, as were other women of her station. She lived in an era when extraordinary women, cultured and literate, played dominant roles in public affairs. At 15, she married Prince Shou, a son of Emperor Xuan Zong who, at a chance encounter, fell in love with his daughter-in-law and took her for his own. Unlike many of the women in the royal circle, Yu-Huan harbored no personal ambition and was submissive to her fate. In the tumultuous and desperate hour of General An Lu-Shan's rebellion, toward the end of the reign of Emperor Xuan Zong, she was made to bear the brunt of the people's rage and ordered to take her own life.

It was an age when, to maintain peace with warring ethnic groups (in today's Tibet, Mongiolia, Manchuria and Xinjang), the Middle Kingdom dispatched beautiful, well-bred women to remote regions as trophies. They brought with them the beguilement of the arts and the pacifism of their new-found religion, Buddhism. Warriors were recruited from the "outer" tribes (who were often of different skin colors and languages) to contain their own people. With this, the Middle Kingdom was able to annex through culture and religion the fiercely independent states it could not acquire by war. One warrior, An Lu-Shan, was made commander-in-chief of the city known today as Beijing. He stalks this play like a Cassius; his revolt of 755 A.D. brought on the rapid decline of the Tang Dynasty.

This new version of Yu Huan's story will be performed in English and Mandarin and will be completely understandable to English-speaking audiences. It joins the body of the playwright's work as an indictment of a cultural tradition not governed by law, where the most basic of all rights falls victim to the whims of a self-appointed few. In the Chinese tradition of playwriting, there is no psychological dialogue--the horror of the story is communicated in the facts of the play and in the characters' actions. Throughout the play, Yu-Huan does not get to speak; her fate is hammered home as the decisions of her life are made for her.

The multi-ethnic cast of 18 includes its choreographer, Ashley Liang, as Yu-Huan (the title character), Charles Pang as the Prince, Zhang ChunZhi as the Emperor and Alexander Reed as General An LuShan. The ensemble includes Sheila Romo, Ave Cheung, Allison T. Chi, Lu Zhao, Ricky Lin, Alli Urbanik, XueMing Chen, Elisa Pupko, Sarah Young, Brandi Dyer, Jeremy Rafal, Gary Sugai, Bill Engst and Michael Lin. The ethnic mix of this cast is: five caucasians, one African-American, two Filipinos, one Japanese Hawaiian and nine Chinese, five from mainland China, two from Taiwan and two from Hong Kong.

Set design is by Edward Morris. Lighting design is by Christina Watanabe Original score is by Xiren Wang. Costume design is by Harrison Xu HaoJian.

Playwright/director Joanna Chan returned early this year from directing a hugely successful production of her political drama, "The Soongs, By Dreams Betrayed," for Hong Kong Repertory Theatre at the Grand Theatre at Hong Kong Cultural Centre. She co-founded Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America in 1992, dedicating it to works by and for Asian artists. Jan Stuart (Newsday) labeled "Fou Lei and Fou Ts'ong," a true family tragedy of a world-class Chinese pianist which she produced and starred in, as "a jewel of theater craftsmanship." She directed the Yangtze Rep production of "The Eternal Game" by Wang Wei-Zhong and "The Sound of a Voice" by David Henry Hwang at Theater for the New City in 1996. After seeing these productions, New York Theatre Wire critic Bert Wechsler wrote, "The company overall has superb production values....Joanna Chan's direction was clear, uncluttered, exact, and always intelligent. Her pan-Asian Yangtze Repertory Company of America is a vital element of New York's theatre scene. It deserves support and we eagerly await its next production."

Chan has also headed New York's Four Seas Players (1970-77, 83-92) and the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre (1986-90).

Photo by Jonathan Slaff

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