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A CurtainUp Review
Some lucky New Yorkers had a brief chance to experience his Chinese charm and artistry at the NYU Skirball Center, where the National Theatre of China recently presented an adaptation ofRichard III in Mandarin with English supertitles. Part of NYU Skirball Center's Vision + Voices Global Performance Series (this year's focus is China!),this was a memorable brush with the Bard, even if Shakespeare's language took a backseat to the highly-stylized Chinese stagecraft.
Directed by Wang Xiaoying, this production was quite operatic in its look and manner. While all the actors had spoken parts and don't sing at any point, the traditional props, wigs, costumes, and musical instruments were more consonant with the set design and stage business of an opera house than a theater. From Richard III's first scheming appearance in Act 1 to the finale at Bosworth Field, everything was structurally close to opera.
In what was perhaps the most effective scene, the wooing Lady Anne by Richard, she wore a traditional full-length Chinese gown and her feet never stepped but whispered across the stage. The operatic air and formality (and certain remoteness), might have have put some in theNew York audience accustomed to more realism in their Shakespeare, a whiff at sea.
Wang proved to be a sturdy navigator through the waters of his Richard III, however. He had a firm grip on the rudder with his command of his Chinese craft and his own Shakespearean vision. And those who remained to the finale (there were quite a number of empty seats following intermission) were ultimately rewarded with the eleventh-hour zinger: "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" Wang gave fresh Asian definition (and perhaps the only verbatim translation of Shakespeare's text in the production) to this most dramatic episode, which has become an emblem for all Pyrrhic victories that go to naught.
The Chinese Richard III was surprisingly handsome, with the deformity definitely of the inner man, and not of the outer physique. There were other departures from the usual: Queen Margaret was a dominant presence here, though she usually makes just a cameo appearance. Here she materialized frequently, appearing over the performing space as if from the eye of heaven, to repeat her curse on Richard.
This is clearly an adaptation of the original. Wang even grafted on the Three Witches and bloody stage business from Macbeth to make his dramatic points here. Despite the language barrier, this was a truly chilling look at the famous serial murderer in an Asian idiom.
Though you're reading these comments after the production has run its courese, the NYU Skirball Center continues its Vision + Voices Global Performance Series throughout the spring. So there are several more opportunities this spring to see contemporary Asian artists. This Chinese-themed series coincides with the 35th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between China and the US. So if you can't afford a plane ticket to China or have the time, a ticket to one of the upcoming Chinese dance or film events at the Skirball is a good way to go East without leaving New York.