Taiwanese playwright-director Stan Lai’s most famous production, Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land, tells two intertwined stories. One is a modern tragedy about an old man reminiscing a long-lost love, while the second is a broad comedy about a cuckolded man who finds his way to Peach Blossom Land.
Premiering in 1986, Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land has toured worldwide and won both audience and critical acclaim.
This spring, Lai brings the play to Beijing with a new actress in the leading role of Yun Zhifan.
The first woman to play Yun some 20 years ago was Lai’s wife, the playwright-actress Ding Nai-Chu, for whom Lai actually created the role. The 1992 film version of Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land features the popular Taiwanese actress Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia in the lead. Three years ago, the young rising Chinese actress Yuan Quan won the part of Yun.
Now it’s Sun Li’s turn. The 30-year-old ballerina and actress graduated from the Beijing Film Academy in 1999 and has appeared in many movies and TV shows. And it’s likely that Sun will be comfortable in her new role, since Huang Lei who stars as Jiang Binliu (Yun’s lover) in the play, is her partner in real life.
“My wife and I created the role of Yun in 1986. And I believe the real life couple will bring chemistry to the stage,” director Lai says. “Sun and Huang are both talented performers. Their rehearsals have been impressive.”
“They have done a lot of work at home. They look so natural, so smooth but with a passion for detail during rehearsals,” says Yuan Hong, the play’s producer.
Lai’s Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land is not only two plays within a play, where both are performed in part, but the two narratives are seemingly opposing genres – one comedy and the other, a tragedy. The comedy and tragedy play out separately onstage, interrupt each other and then proceed to compliment each other.
Lai cites two inspirations for the play. While earning his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley, Lai studied the Greek dramatic form known as Satyr, a comedic drama which would traditionally be performed following a set of three tragedies.
“People may consider tragedy and comedy as opposing concepts, but I started to see it differently,” Lai says.
By the end of the play, when lovers Yun and Jiang are reunited after four decades apart, “the laughter gives way to sobs and the audience is left to contemplate the burdens of memory, history, longing and love – and the power of theater itself,” read the New York Times review for its Beijing run in Nov 2006.