Theatre review: He is my wife, he is my mother

by on Friday, 23 July 2010 Comments
He is my wife, he is my mother
By Katherine H. Chou
Inspired from Li Yu’s Silent Opera

This contemporary first production inspired by an ancient text relates to the Chinese Nanfeng Fashion in two different times and places.

What's the Nanfeng Fashion (南風)? It was a custom in fashion from Fujian, the province in South-Eastern China across the strait from Taiwan, where a lot of Taiwanese are originally from. The word 'Nanfeng' (which means wind from south) indicates the homosexual inclination of Fujian's inhabitants. The Fujian province is also known for having allowed homosexual marriages during the Ming dynasty.

In the city of Putian, where a part of the story takes place, Mazu -the Goddess of the Sea- was born. The city became a pilgrimage place for Taiwanese people and believers in Mazu.

So what is this first production telling us?

In a nutshell, it's about the eternal love between Xu Jifang, a young widower, who is a very cultivated landlord recently returned from China, and You Ruilang, a young poor boy blessed with incredible beauty. In 1912 they met each other in Putian during Mazu's celebration, which was exclusively reserved for men. Despite his old friend Chen Dalong's despair, Jifang ruined himself in order to marry the young You, who emasculates himself to prove his love and his devotion to his husband and also that he will never leave him for a woman. Out of jealousy Chen Dalong condemned You to be beaten with sticks but out of love, Jifang will take his place and die asking You to “take care of his young son”.

The second part of the story takes place in 1959, a period during which homosexuality was severely repressed. Ruilang changes his name for Ruinang and migrates to Taiwan. He became a woman and lives with his cousin who travels all year for business. As a mother, Ruinang raises Jifang's son Chengxian, prohibiting him to see other boys to spare him the suffering You knew. Unfortunately the relationship between Chengxian and Chen Nianzu, who is being discovered to be Dalong's nephew, is close to the Nanfeng Fashion for Ruinang's distress. He will be the one to receive the prize of the best mother.

Art Direction

8155cUsing double-scenography, the director shows the two periods “time-space” of the story, with magnificent drapes or interior scenery. Katherine Chu the director and author of the show, imagined a special representation: in the first part, Lee -the artist who interprets Dalong and his nephew- plays “Nanguan”, and we discover with a lot of sensitivity a homosexual love tending to universality, subtly directed – we have to admit the intelligent choice to give You's role to a androgynous woman and Jifang's to a masculine features actor – with love scenes and complicity of a surprising beauty. The aesthetic of this first part is inspired from the traditional and very symbolic gestures, but with a pinch of contemporaneity.

The second part's direction is more realistic, less aesthetic, but nevertheless a suppleness and a beauty rise from the moves of the actors, inherited from the artistic tradition. Lightness is also there thanks to the cousin, a funny interpretation by Wu Wei Wei, contrasting with the “straighter” interpretation of the conscientious mother by Hsu Yen ling.

All the roles are performed to a high degree: Yen ling is remarkable for her interpretation of You - by her walk and also by her voice – and excels at playing the joyful mother. Wei Wei is so amusing in his tomboy role: her joy is communicative. Hsu Hua-chien is excellent as a numb and cold lover and as a son repressing his homosexuality. Lee Yi-Hsiu, who's got a beautiful voice, plays his role admirably. And the others actors are as well.

“He is my wife, he is my mother” will be performed again in Taipei from the 29th to the 31st July 2010 at the Metropolitan Hall (at 7:30 PM except the 31th at 2:30 PM and 7:30 PM). Although the question of homosexuality is more or less well accepted in Taipei nowadays, this story in “two times-two spaces” raises interrogations about China's history, its past, its conflicts, its present, its contradictions, with acuity and intelligence. At the end of the show, which we will not reveal, leaves us with a question which will still be powerful when we are out of the politically correct and the lobbies.

Photo courtesy of the Creative Society and K. Chou

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Diane Vandermolina

Diane Vandermolina was born on the 12th February 1976, in Marseille, France. After her Master in Philosophy and Theatre studies, she worked with different theatre in Marseille as an art advisor (Theatre Gyptis, Cameleone Company...) and press relations (for the First African Movie Festival). She also publishes short stories in newspapers and has written theatre plays which will be staged next year in France and Taiwan. Living between Marseille and Taipei, she is very involved in the Taiwan art scene, writing on Taiwanese theatre, dance, movie and design arts - and trying to make them better known in France by creating the first Taiwanese Art Festival in France in 2013. She is currently the chief director of la 'Revue Marseillaise du Théâtre', a French cultural magazine she created in 2004, and the chief organiser of an annual festival in Marseille, les 'Theatralia', the first French theatre festival in a commercial centre. Passionate about photography, she takes pictures of shows for French theatre companies and as a professional journalist (French press card 106063). She specialises in art criticism, but also makes reports on various topics such as society, culture, arts and gastronomy, collaborating with different medias (French newspapers and radios such as 'L’Express', 'Cassandre', 'Marseille la Cité', 'l’Officiel des Loisirs', 'Radio Grenouille'...), teaching Cultural Journalism at the Journalist School of Marseille, EJCM, Aix Marseille University. She is also the general secretary of Marseille Provence Press Club, dedicated to journalists, and works as expert with Marseille City Hall and the French Ministry of Youth and Sports on cultural and theatrical projects.

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