Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land: Where Sorrow and Happiness in Life Meet (Part 1)
By Quek See Ling
Literary classics are works that are able to stand the test of time. Directed by Ismene Ting, the 30th Anniversary Edition of Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land, performed from 11-12 February 2017, was one of the highlights of 2017’s Huayi – the annual Chinese festival of arts at Singapore’s Esplanade. Performance Workshop, the Taiwanese theatre company behind the classic play, was established by Stan Lai, Lee Kuo-hsiu and Lee Li-chun in 1984, and made a name for themselves with three critically acclaimed plays – That Night We Became Crosstalk Comedians (1985), Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land (1986) and Circle Story (1987) – during a period when Taiwanese theatre companies were few and far between. Their other notable works include A Dream Like A Dream (2005) and The Village (2008).
An evergreen classic, Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land was first presented in 1986, it was brought back in 1991, 1992, 1999, 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2015 in various editions across different geographical locations like Mainland China and the United States. Among them, the 1991 edition that featured Brigitte Lin and Chin Shih-chieh became the iconic stage play that also saw its director, Stan Lai, being hailed as a
“creative master”. The play made its debut in Singapore in 2006.
The Meaning Behind the Disruptions
“I said I don’t want to be disrupted when rehearsing!” a common refrain uttered by the actor playing Lao Tao. The double booking of the rehearsal venue with the added stress of the impending premiere for both troupes means that a clash is inevitable. However, the conflicting lines and the contrasting natures of the plays end up complementing each other.
Nobody likes to be disrupted when focusing on a task on hand. The resulting disruptions from the two troupes, not only disrupting each other but also the audience, seems to end up making their respective plots more complete. Furthermore, when the Peach Blossom Land cast finishes their rehearsal, they sit quietly to watch the final rehearsal of the Secret Love cast. Both troupes are also frequently interrupted by a mysterious lady looking for Liu Ziji.
Briefly mentioned in Tao’s original masterpiece, Liu is a hermit held in high regard who searches for the Peach Blossom Land in vain. Perhaps the play aims to highlight the irony that a lowly fisherman succeeds where virtuous personalities, like Liu and other high-ranking officials, fail. The director of Peach Blossom Land blurts out, in one of his many arguments with the Secret Love’s director, that a tragedy does not automatically equate to elegance, and an artistic work does not automatically mean quality. Just as not everyone appreciates tranquility in life, Lao Tao’s wife would rather spend the rest of her life in a stormy relationship with Master Yuan than to join him in Peach Blossom Land. Similarly, the mysterious lady looking for Liu hints of life’s many fruitless pursuits. How do we look above the mundane and stay optimistic? Why not start by being content with what we have?
Mistakenly booked into the same space for rehearsals, a tussle ensues between two theatre troupes staging two very different plays. In the poignant Secret Love, a dying old man in a Taipei hospital ward, Jiang Bin Liu (Fan Kuang-yao), thinks back to 1948, when he lost contact with his long-lost lover Yun Zhi Fan (Chu Jr-ying) in Shanghai. In Peach Blossom Land – a farcical period comedy based on Tao Yuanming’s prose essay of the same name – Lao Tao (Tang Tsung-sheng), a fisherman from Wuling who heads upstream to fish because his wife, Chun Hua (Jessie Chang), is having an affair with Master Yuan (Chu Chung-heng). As the two troupes decide in desperation to share the stage and carry on with their respective rehearsals, the two plays seem to mesh together seamlessly in the ensuing confusion.
(Translated by Shawn Pang)