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Stellar cast shines, but play needs a little adventure

Updated: 2012-12-21 09:40
By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily)

Stellar cast shines, but play needs a little adventure

The National Center for the Performing Arts' latest production, Returning Home on a Snowy Night, is a wartime romance set in the 1940s. Provided to China Daily

It must have looked like an escape from reality when Wu Zuguang wrote and first presented Returning Home on a Snowy Night in 1942.

Fires of war were engulfing China, yet not a hint of either the Japanese invasion or Chinese resistance could be detected in the play. This was in the wartime city of Chongqing, where many of the nation's glitterati had found refuge, in contrast to Japanese-occupied Shanghai, where Chinese filmmakers injected innocuous entertainment with somber overtones and subtle allusions to the woes of foreign occupation.

However, the story of a Peking Opera star in love with the concubine of an official not only survived, but has turned into a classic with increasing relevance. The craze for pop sensation and the hypocrisy of officialdom have never been truer today even though the romance at the heart of the story is so starry-eyed it borders on unbelievable. Well, it serves well as an antidote of eerie idealism at least.

The new production by the National Center for the Performing Arts stands out for its stellar cast, among other things.

Stellar cast shines, but play needs a little adventure

Juan Ripolles' artworks displayed in Nanjing 

Feng Yuanzheng, a pillar of versatility and subtlety on the Chinese stage, plays the official, or chief justice, to be specific, who has the sophisticated taste of an opera patron and the ambiguous sexuality of having four wives while chasing a female impersonator.

Feng does not go the cheap way of caricature, but imbues the character with complexity. The last scene in which he, as a newly devout Buddhist, sends his butler to bury the homeless person found frozen to death in his ornate yard, without realizing it was the star he once adored and then expelled from the city, has true pathos. The hypocrisy, if it can be so called, is ingrained so deeply in our psyche that it is nothing like that seen in a typical melodrama.

The big surprise is Yu Shaoqun, who plays the 25-year-old opera star who grows up in a humble family and still retains his innocence and sense of justice.

Yu, who gained fame by playing the young Mei Lanfang in Chen Kaige's 2009 biopic Forever Enthralled, looks stunning in full Peking Opera regalia.

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