China Daily 5-3-2013
New York play focuses on foreign love and green cards
By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)
Cinematographer Mu Ge (left) films actors Dan Bielinski and Wei-Yi Lin during a four-hour rehearsal in Manhattan for Columbia University student Zhao Binghao's "staged movie," Kurukulla. Caroline Berg / China Daily
One week before curtain call, actors Wei-Yi Lin and Dan Bielinski are shirtless and choreographing a lover's spat. A unique feature in Columbia University student Zhao Binghao's 90-minute play Kurukulla is a cinematographer filming the action onstage.
"This is definitely a new experience," said cinematographer Mu Ge. "The camera is a part of the performance."
Kurukulla is named after the Tibetan goddess of love and the story explores the tangled webs that can be formed by love, particularly when a green card is thrown into the mix.
The method used in filming the play, to be simultaneously broadcast on a large screen, is a style only its director, Wang Chong, is familiar with. As artistic director of the Beijing-based Thtre du Rve Exprimental, Wang draws inspiration from the avant-garde.
"You compromise a bit of your blocking for a close-up for the camera," Wang said about choreographing the actors onstage. "But the close-up will provide you a lot of things for the audience. We choose to focus on the dramatic moment."
Zhao said he wrote the script as if it were a screenplay and feels this unconventional staging is suitable for the performance.
"His plays are always very intimate," Lin said. "It feels like you're watching a film, but it's a staged play."
Kurukulla is part of the New Plays Now annual festival for emerging artists from the Theatre MFA program at Columbia University's School of the Arts. Its three performances - two today and one on May 5 - at the Pershing Square Signature Center's Studio Theater in Manhattan are sold out.
Zhao and his mentor, David Henry Hwang, a Tony Award-winner and Chinese-American, will speak at a reception in the lobby at 6:30 pm preceding tonight's performance.
"I wrote this play for [Lin], actually," Zhao said about his lead actress. The two Chinese natives met at Columbia.
"We have shared similar situations in the past year," the playwright said. "We're both foreigners, we were both international students, we're both trying to stay here, we both came here to explore the artistic world in the States and we're trying to stay, so we need the visa or even a green card."
The play begins with a man who spots a woman looking bored at a funeral and approaches her. They talk, they flirt, and then the audience is transported 10 years back in time. Eventually, it is revealed that the couple has a history. The woman married this American man's gay best friend for a green card. Humiliation eventually led to their divorce and the woman fled back to China and married a Chinese banker. The funeral was her ex-husband's.
During the writing of the play, Zhao and his mentor discussed immigrants' lives in the US, as well as their lives in China, and reasons for living in one place versus another.
"I'm in the process of applying for a new visa," Lin said. "Everyone is thinking about [marrying for a green card], but will you really do it? That is another question."
Although Kurukulla is based on Zhao's personal experience, the 24-year-old hasn't been married.
"Sometimes you feel it's very insulting when people bring up the idea that you can marry someone to get a green card," Zhao said. "It's cheating. It's not because you're a wonderful artist."
"Or because of who you are," Lin interjected after a four-hour rehearsal.
Zhao has studied in New York at Columbia for three years and plans to graduate with an MFA in playwriting in May. "It was a good choice to come [to New York] as a playwright," Zhao said. "To be a playwright in China is a tricky thing."
Zhao said he couldn't imagine having the same opportunities in China. "I wouldn't be able to have a play produced in a theater like Signature at my age," Zhao said. "There aren't many theaters [in China]."
Zhao is seeking financial support to take Kurukulla on tour in China this fall.
Afterward, Zhao hopes to obtain a US artist's visa and continue writing stories, whether as plays, films or novels.
"My favorite stories?" Zhao ponders the question. "I have bad taste. I like crude things, like comedy and dark comedy and all kinds of dark stuff."