Attended Edward Lam Dance Theatre's epic 'What Is Sex? 红楼梦', kicking off the first of the shows the friends and I are catching at this year's Huayi Festival (华艺节) presented by Esplanade. Didn't watch Edward Lam Yik-wah's (林奕華) earlier presentations of the other three great Chinese classics at Huayi in the previous years.
3.5 hours which included a 20-minute intermission, saw a prologue and 17 scenes that followed the chapters of Cao Xueqin's eighteenth century classic novel 'Dream of the Red Chamber'. (曹雪芹《红楼梦》) That's where the similarities end. Thank goodness. It's not a bad book in terms of looking at it as a social commentary, the rise and the fall of aristocratic clans, eighteenth century social norms, etc. But I've no love lost for this classic when I had to study it for the examinations. I abhor this genre of fiction and by the end of the year, I nurtured a distinct aversion to flowers, manicured gardens and pavilions, and truly wanted to stab Lin Daiyu (林黛玉) and Jia Baoyu (贾宝玉) and everyone in the two family estates of Rongguofu (荣国府) and Ningguofu (宁国府).
In this musical where the setting is a rather peculiar sort of book club, 12 "highly desirable men" are engaged by well-heeled female clients to read this classic to them. The men were actors, storytellers and narrators, taking on the female roles with a fair amount of ease, simply because the roles turned into thoughts and words, not so much of action. Couldn't stifle my giggles. This notion of 'cute guys' and all, is extremely subjective. LOL. Edward Lam used a predominantly female cast for male characters in his interpretation of 'The Romance of the Three Kingdoms' (三国演义). I'm not going to read anything into the gender-flipping thing. It's nothing to do with sexism or subversive gender themes. In the thick English-and-Chinese program booklet, Alexander Hsu wrote a short note on 'Hatred. Remorse. Regret. Revelation. - The Rationale Behind A Male Cast For What Is Sex?'. He made two observations, "It is not gender that determines language, but language that determines gender" and "the subtext in language is not gender, but what we associate with gender".
The blurb suggested, "In each of us, there exists a void—a deep, bottomless emptiness. And we are all trying to fill this void." This contemporary interpretation of the novel is supposed to inspire audiences to look within and find some meaning in the angst of everyday living or in the hypocrisy of the world. “每个人都要补自己的洞。” 所谓《红楼梦》的虚实相生与真假变化，人生挣扎与蹉跎，无论什么年代，还是那么熟悉。This play certainly doesn't provoke such deep thoughts in me. I wasn't entertained by the singing and dancing. You know how I feel about musicals and the ilk. I watched this for the sole purpose of seeing Edward Lam's vision and stage direction. The theme song 《似曾》 sung by William Wei (韋禮安) is catchy enough for me to want to tinkle it out on the piano later and memorize those lyrics pronto. This song pretty much summarized the uhh musical. Heh.