Saturday, February 2, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) King Lear (PuSh)

(photo credit: Eoin Carey)
A Cultural Curiosity
Shakespeare meets Peking Opera
by David C. Jones
Arts festivals like PuSh bring in boundary-pushing acts from all over the world. Sometimes techniques and styles do not transfer very well across borders, but good stories and emotional connection can help make the show resonate.
Earlier in the festival a show from Germany entitled Testament presented King Lear in the almost stereotypical stoic and austere way which at first was off-putting, but as the story of ageing and caregiving evolved it became relatable and quite moving.
Because this Lear doesn't explore deeper relatable truths and is more about style – it lands only as cultural curiosity.

This show is also using King Lear as a jumping off point but rather than using it to explore a human condition, it has been presented in a stylized way. The Contemporary Legend Theatre from Taipei, Taiwan writer and star Wu Hsing-Kuo has created an epic one-man show in the style of Peking Opera.
The aesthetic is striking  - the stage design by Chang Wang has four misshapen statues flanking the very large stage at the Centre For The Performing Arts. There is a nine-piece orchestra playing traditional and contemporary Chinese music. There is smoke, thunder and paper snow.
Wu Hsing-Kuo is clearly a star and great at what he does. He sings and moves with athletic precision and he attacks all the different characters he plays with vigor and skill.

The Peking Opera style is all about precise moves and frozen expressions to depict the emotional intent of the character.

Showing that ageing Lear is going mad, he strokes his white beard out away from his face while waggling his head from side to side. Cordelia keeps her arms folded up by her face and bats her eyes. The servant is hunched over and takes tiny steps. The costumes each character wears designed by Tim Yip are gorgeous.
Those not versed in the style may find the super slow walks in a circle on the stage off-putting and since the acting style is so presentational, for some it won’t be involving. Because this Lear doesn't explore deeper relatable truths and is more about style – it lands only as cultural curiosity.

Others found the technique and presentation spectacular and leapt to their feet for a standing ovation. 

1 comment:

  1. I think Mr. Jones either missed, or is intentionally leaving out a huge aspect of the show. The stylized form that he speaks of is broken about 20 minutes into the act.

    When Wu plays Lear out in the meadows, picking flowers, ripping them, and subsequently removing his Opera garments, it was the most authentic acting I have seen to date. I feel that Wu intentionally used the stylistic form of acting to begin with, as a way to symbolize the "form" that Lear himself is locked into. This "form" breaks away (and so too does Wu's acting technique) as Lear is cast into the wilderness to face himself.

    Here, I found Wu's monologues extremely emotional and connected to the text. At one point, he reached out to the audience with the flowers, asking them if they knew who he was. There was absolutely no style in that.

    Ultimately, I feel that Wu created something far deeper than what Mr. Jones is reporting. I agree with Mr. Jones that it might not be everyone's cup of tea, but for entirely different reasons; my reasons are that the symbolism of the style breaking down may not be as meaningful to some.



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