BWW Review: Clubbed Thumb Presents Zhu Yi's Chinese Gentrification Story YOU NEVER TOUCHED THE DIRT
Though Zhu Yi's YOU NEVER TOUCHED THE DIRT is set in a large estate on the outskirts of Shanghai, New Yorkers will certainly recognize it as a gentrification story, where the homogeneous conveniences of the modern would come at the expense of a community's history and distinctive character.
As directed by Ken Rus Schmoll for Clubbed Thumb's Summerworks series, the ninety-minute piece, made up of short vignette scenes, resembles a children's theatre production, with set designer Andrew Moerdyk focusing on bright, primary colors, a doll house sized villa set upstage and, as scripted, on-stage actors voicing the barks and baaaas for prop animals.
The setting is a gated community off of the recently renamed Moonlight Lake, a manicured rural paradise for commuters to city jobs. Each home is built in the architectural style of a different country. Mr. and Mrs. Li (Kenneth Lee and Jennifer Lim) reside in the home known as Spain. A successful businessman. Mr. Li is only home on weekends, and his wife, with their only child away at college, lives rather leisurely tending to household matters.
Their full-time gardener, Zhou (John D. Haggerty), used to own his employers' land, granted to his family as farmland during the reign of Chairman Mao. But, like all of his former neighbors, the government bought him out at a low price to build the new gentrified community, and, like many others, he's found the best means of employment available is as a laborer for the new owners.
Mocking the Li family's ornamental relationship to the land (Farming has been replaced by decorative gardening and a flock of chickens contribute atmosphere more than eggs.) he claims a deeper attachment, but the Local Earth God (Daniel K. Isaac) reminds him of the centuries-old history of the region and its many different occupants whose varied uses for the land were all just temporary.
The small issues that arise among the different classes of this supposedly classless society add up to a charmingly told exploration of the human search for community, be it through people, places or lifestyles.