TAIWAN DREAMS EPISODE 1: DREAM HOTEL
Creative Society Theatre Group
Issues of history and identity, both personal and collective, made for a rich and heady brew in this Dream Hotel concocted by Taiwanese theatre director Wei Ying-chuan, based on Taiwanese author Luo Yi-chun's novel Western Xia Hotel.
A photographer named Tu Nick goes in search of his loved ones and ends up in a rabbit-hole called the Western Xia Hotel, meeting creatures real as well as fantastical, such as a talking badger and snarling goats named after leaders Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong.
Along the way, he is told the story of the demise of the Western Xia dynasty (1038-1227), a non-Han Chinese tribe that invented its own writing script to protect its identity.
This desert kingdom offers an interesting prism through which to view Taiwan's identity problem - the island has long been plagued by conflict between the natives and immigrants who fled to Taiwan from Mainland China in the late 1940s when civil war broke out.
When the Democratic Progressive Party, which represents the native Taiwanese, came to power in 2000, it tried to assert the identity of the natives by removing place names associated with the previous Kuomintang regime and pushing for the use of the Minnan dialect.
BOOK IT/TAIWAN DREAMS EPISODE 1: DREAM HOTEL
WHERE: 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road
WHEN: Today, 8pm
ADMISSION: $45 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)
In the play, characters tear at one another, screaming so loudly that audiences were warned before- hand of the high decibels, in a reflection of the sound and fury surrounding the battle over control of the historical narrative.
In a fable told by one of the characters, the two bickering heads of a double-headed eagle tried to trick each other into eating a poisonous fruit - without realising that they share a body and a common destiny.
The production, a three-hour version of the six-hour original shown last year in Taiwan, weaves together theatre, video, photography and music to transport audiences to realms from China's north-western desert to the alleys of modern-day Taipei.
In Theatreworks' intimate 72-13 space, audiences sat on three rows facing one another across a long passageway that served as the stage, with photos and videos projected onto walls and screens.
Director Wei, also a photographer and film-maker whose credits include the lesbian-themed film Candy Rain (2008), delves into how, as male rulers come and go, women often end up as sacrifical lambs - mothers and wives get butchered by a barbarian despot; a wife gets killed by a jealous husband and a girl gets stabbed in the eye by a mentally unstable beau.
The play is one of two halves, yang (male) and yin (female).
While the first half is drawn from Luo's novel, the second represents a "herstory" of sorts drawn up by Wei, who tries to fill the silences left by the omission of female narratives. The protagonist also turns out to be a hermaphrodite and is played by an actor and an actress.
In searching for his/her parents and tracing their life stories, the protagonist goes on a journey to locate his/her own sense of self and identity.
Thoughtful and at times playful, this expansive play travels from the Western Xia period to the present and beyond, and invites the audience to dream a little dream about their own selves and histories.