On an unexpected wet and windy Adelaide night, Stan Lai’s The Village provided a heart-warming and comforting night at the theatre.
Set at the end of the Civil War in 1949, in a Military Dependents Village in Chiayi, Taiwan, the story crosses a span of 50 years and three generations – the Zhao, Zhu and Zhou families.
From the first generation fleeing mainland China after the Kuomintang was defeated, yearning to go back home, to building temporary homes which become their permanent homes, The Village traces the lives of these families and explores themes of identity, belonging and community.
Drawing from real life stories in such villages, acclaimed legendary director, Stan Lai has captured poignant experiences and crafted an epic and masterful theatre production that depicts a true, touching history of Taiwan.
We are introduced to the first generation, who settled into their makeshift village home, Formosa Village One, after fleeing to safety in Taiwan.
It was presumed to be a temporary refugee exile, but transformed into a permanent communal melting pot that would vibrantly change Taiwan’s cultural heritage forever.
Such multi-layered characters shape this piece, each with their own defining stories, but intertwined to create a deep and compassionate understanding for the audience.
We come to understand how the thousands of refugees all over China arrive together, with their different dialects, and differing cooking styles to create their own, new traditions.
This starts with a communal New Year’s dinner at Unit number 99, and ends with the death of an elder and the birth of the next generation.
Act Two captures the second generation, 20 years later in the late 1960s to mid 1970s, blazing their own trail and trying to imagine ways to escape the village their parents now call home.
The genius set design really encapsulated the closeness and realness of the family living quarters and the fluidity of the transitions was spell-binding, along with the simple but marvellously effective lighting.
When the era changed, so did the interior decorating of the homes, to reflect teenagers growing up in the 70s.
A beautiful and melancholic soundtrack underplayed the entire performance, with a combination of traditional Oriental music to popular American tracks.
As time goes on, we learn about the second generation of villagers in more detail, and also learn about family secrets and love lost from the first generation.
Growing up in an Italian family, I understand the family values the Zhao, Zhu and Zhou were trying to impart on their children, and the guilt Mrs Zhao was executing on her daughter!
Stan Lai is well known for combining tragedy and comedy in his works. And this is no different.
We found ourselves moving between sorrow and laughter in seconds. Lai has certainly mastered the art of manipulating the fine line between bathos and pathos!
Collaborating playwright and director, veteren television producer Wang Wei-Chung moves the scenes in brisk cinematic fashion, where we don’t have time to sit and ponder in sentimentality for too long.
The clever use of character Granny Lu, an ageless elder of the village, is similar to a mystical chronophage, whose slow, concise walk marks the passage of time.
As the play progresses, the village moves further into the past. Where the children have left Taiwan for the bright lights of Taipei and beyond, forging their own stories in time, until they all gather for one last hurrah in their old hometown to bid farewell to Formosa Village before it is demolished.
As Lai’s play is not set in one village, it transcends time and place and speaks to the humility in all of us.
While in Mandarin with English subtitles, I at times felt my reaction to the scene was delayed, however none of the emotion and compassion was lost in translation.
Even the bows were choreographed with such grace and fluidity, much like a martial arts dance.
The Village truly was an exquisite tribute to a historical moment in time.
Happy theatre travels…
This review also features on the Theatre Travels website – www.theatretravels.org