China Daily 6-17-2011

 

Avant-garde Play Puts Woody Allen Center Stage 
Xu Lin

 

Woody Allen's diehard fans will delight in his one-act play Central Park West, a story about marriage, infidelity and elopement involving four relationships between two men and three women.

Thatre du Rve Exprimental, which was founded by 29-year-old avant-garde theater director Wang Chong, in 2008, is staging the mainland's only authorized version of the classic in Beijing.

Central Park West, an avenue in New York City's Manhattan, is the address of wealthy celebrities, including John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, Madonna and Allen's ex-girlfriend, Oscar-winner Diane Keaton.

"It's Allen's autographical work," Wang says.

"The avenue in the play refers to a meeting place for secret lovers, which depicts his own cheating. The fact that the two characters are obsessed with young girls hints at his love of such girls. He fell in love with his stepdaughter, who was only 19."

The play's multimedia format, which fuses theater and film, makes it unique.

Two cameramen film the performances onstage and audiences can see the live video projections.

"It's like shooting a movie in front of the audience," Wang says.

He points out Allen often films characters speaking in front of the camera, until the audience can judge their personalities.

"When performers are talking, I use close-ups such as of their mouths and faces, to emphasize the sarcasm. It's like using Allen's style to perform his play," Wang says.

In one scene, a man stands on one side of the stage and a woman on the other with their backs toward each other. Onscreen, their faces are shown in turns as they speak, just like in a film.

"It's a sharp contrast. They can't converse like this in a play, but the use of film-like shots and montages makes it possible," Wang says.

Wang adapts some American humor into Chinese jokes and changes characters names into Chinese.

Psychologist Liao Meili can't see her own problems and rarely communicates with her husband, Chen Yongsa - an amative lawyer who sleeps around with her friends. She flies into a rage upon discovering Chen is having an affair with her best friend Xiaomi.

But Chen plans to elope with his new lover, his wife's 18-year-old patient.

Xiaomi's husband Yang Jing, a frustrated and cowardly playwright, falls in love with the girl at first sight and begins chasing her.

"Everyone in the drama has psychological problems. Interestingly, Allen underwent about 30 years of therapy," Wang says.

The play crescendos with a ferocious fight between the two couples. When all is told and brought into the open, everyone just goes home as if nothing happened.

"The ridiculous ending reveals the hypocrisy of middle-class marriages and makes people think about marriage and love. It's also Allen's self-criticism."