China Daily 11-24-2014

 

Ghosts 2.0 offers two perspectives on drama

Xu Lin

 

It's difficult to tell whether you're enjoying a movie or a stage drama when you're watching Ghosts 2.0.

While four performers onstage are acting in front of four cameras on tripods, you could see their close-ups at the same time on the split screen via a big projector in front of you.

It's the latest work of avant-garde theater director Wang Chong from Beijing-based Theater du Reve Experimental. As an adaptation of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's classic work, it is running this week at Festival/Tokyo 2014.

 

"It's an innovative and convenient way to demonstrate the characters onstage. It's like communication on the Internet because performers stare at the camera directly and sometimes will take a selfie," Wang says.

He has used live video of performers onstage in many of his productions, such as Woody Allen's Central Park West and Thunderstorm 2.0, based on Chinese playwright Cao Yu's work.

In the 70-minute Ghosts 2.0, you have to focus on the actors' body language and the images on the projector at the same time.

The play's production director, Inger Buresund from Ibsen International, says the company collaborated with Wang because he is not using video as a scenographic element but as a storytelling tool, together with the real action onstage.

In April, Wang unveiled Ghosts 2.0 at the Asia Theater Directors Festival in Seoul, working with Korean performers. Unlike the version in Tokyo, the Korean version is like a black-and-white silent film. Audiences can see the performers onstage via a big projection screen and read the subtitles.

The play still has meaning although it was created in the 19th century.

The version being staged in Tokyo was performed in Beijing in September.

In that version, Wang had localized the play to make it more understandable and empathetic for a Chinese audience. The story happens in today's China and all characters have Chinese names. Pastor Manders becomes Secretary Man in the Chinese version because both positions represent the spiritual and political leadership in the local communities.

The original work delved into humanity and morality, and it discussed syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease, and its tragic impact on families. Wang replaced syphilis with AIDS because syphilis is not incurable today but AIDS is fatal.

"I want to bring the master and his classic work back to life in China. It's like a contact between Chinese and Norwegian contexts. It's still very illuminating and touching when it becomes a Chinese story," Wang says.

The climax comes when an adult male runs onstage with a giant stuffed bear toy in his arms, and he starts pulling colorful female underpants out of the bear and throws them everywhere. He cries and shouts repeatedly: "Mom, I am ill, but I don't know what kind of disease it is!" He never mentions the word but the audience knows it's AIDS from all the hints.

Throwing away underpants signifies that he was confessing his sexual history to his mother. In the end, the bear withers when its fillings are all gone, reflecting that the son is in poor health as well.

"The son is pitiful and your heart will ache for him. Unlike Hamlet, who is fighting with enemies, the son is always struggling with himself," says Li Jialong, who played the son in both Beijing and Tokyo productions.