East meets West in legendary playwright Stan Lai’s new original work, “Nightwalk in the Chinese Garden,” co-produced by CalArts’ Center for New Performance and The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.
Lai’s site-specific work has a sold-out run from Sept. 21-Oct. 26 in the Huntington’s Garden of Flowing Fragrance.
“Nightwalk” is inspired by one of China’s most famous operas, “The Peony Pavilion,” which was written during the Ming Dynasty in 1598, and staged in a garden.
The romantic tragicomedy is about a young woman who becomes fatally obsessed with a man who appears to her in a dream. After her death, the man stops in her family’s garden while passing through town, and upon seeing her portrait falls in love with her. She appears to him as a ghost and convinces him to dig up her corpse to bring her back to life.
In “Nightwalk,” Lai weaves together surreal and romantic elements from “The Peony Pavilion” with an original tale of early 20th Century Southern California in which Mr. Huntington is a character and the most famous painting in his private collection, “The Blue Boy,” is an essential prop.
A fully immersive play, Nightwalk preserves the intimacy of The Huntington’s Chinese garden with thoughtful choreography that divides the already small audience of 40 into two groups, which are led on separate paths that merge together for larger scenes.
The Garden of Flowing Fragrance at The Huntington is the inspiration for playwright Stan Lai’s new site-specific work, “Nightwalk in the Chinese Garden,” which has its world premiere Sept. 21–Oct. 26, 2018. | Photo by Martha Benedict. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
In an interview with Broadway World, Lai said:
“How you enter the key house will decide your whole evening. It’s a very avant-garde way of displaying the piece. In other words, it’s random how you experience the scenes. To me, that is a statement for the Huntington’s Chinese Garden today – that it is timeless but, at the same time, it is so quintessentially Chinese. It opens itself up to all these new possibilities, like sprinkling in the story from California, which is very exciting. I think it will be fun for audiences to compare their experience afterward.”
Bringing to life Lai’s multicultural work is a diverse cast of professionals, CalArts students, alumni and faculty, and Chinese opera performers from the Shanghai Kunqu Troupe, who will sing several passages from “The Peony Pavilion” in Mandarin to the original classical music.
“Nightwalk’s” scenic designer and CalArts alum Aubree Lynn (Theater MFA 16) said in an interview with Broadway World:
“Because this is largely a devised process, we have many conversations about the use of a word or a sentence, and we pick them apart to get at the meaning in different contexts, both culturally and personally. Every day the script is being adapted and it has pliability in response to those exchanges. It really is a cultural negotiation that ends up being filtered through Stan’s brilliance.”
One of the preeminent voices in contemporary Chinese theater, Lai helped revolutionize modern theater in Taiwan in the 1980s, and his work has influenced a new generation of artists and theater-goers throughout mainland China.
His 35 original plays include many acclaimed Chinese-language works, including “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land” (1986), “The Village” (2008), and the epic, eight-hour “A Dream Like a Dream” (2000). Performances of his work in the United States have included production of “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, and his direction of “Dream of the Red Chamber” for the San Francisco Opera in 2016.
Playwright Stan Lai in the Chinese Garden at The Huntington, the inspiration for his play “Nightwalk in the Chinese Garden.” | Photo by Angel Origgi. CalArts Center for New Performance.
CalArtians in the Cast and Crew
The creative team includes the following CalArtians: Assistant Director Yao Zhang (MFA 15), Scenic Designer Aubree Lynn (MFA 16), Costume Designer EB Brookes (MFA 07), Lighting Designer Chris Kuhl (MFA 05), Sound Designers Daniel Gower (MFA 18) and Leon Rothenberg (faculty, MFA 02), Assistant Stage Manager Qinghuan Yao (MFA 19), Assistant Scenic Designer Jiaying Wang (BFA 17), Assistant Costume Designer Yuan Yuan Liang (MFA 19), Assistant Lighting Designer Damien Perard (BFA 20), Dramaturg Amanda Shank (faculty, MFA 13), Technical Director Mitch Leitschuh (MFA 19), Production Manager Gary Kechely (faculty), Assistant Production Manager Kimberly Yeoman (MFA 19), and Line Producers Sophie Blumberg (MFA 20), Rui Xu (MFA 20) and Xiaoyue Zhang (MFA 20).
“Nightwalk’s” cast includes CalArts theater students Hao Feng (MFA 20) as Scholar/Playwright, Sarahjeen Francois (MFA 20) as Flower Spirit, Lizinke Kruger as Bella (BFA 17), Peter Mark (MFA 17) as the Artist, Sarah Schulte (BFA 17) as the Curator and Ensemble, faculty Adam J. Smith as Mr. Huntington, Abigail Stanton (BFA 19) as the Model, Reggie Yip (BFA 17) as the Chinese Maid and Tom Zhang (MFA 20) as Blue Boy and Ensemble.