EMPRESS OF CHINA
By Ruth Wolff
Directed by Tisa Chang
Starring Tina Chen as Tzu-Hsi, The Dowager Empress
March 12, 2003 through April 13, 2003
|A compelling look at
the final years of the Manchu Dynasty's Dowager Empress. Tina Chen stars
as the "Dragon Empress" who ruled China for nearly 50 years
and at the dawn of a new century, is challenged for the control of
Synopsis: Travel back in time into the final years of Tzu-Hsi, The Dowager Empress of China’s Qing Dynasty, as she rose to power and courageously met her challenging destiny. Eliminating anything that stood in her way to ultimate rule, Tzu-Hsi manipulates the itinerant actor, Shen Tai; banishes the revolutionary tutor, Kang Yu-Wei; and finally forces the timid Emperor Kuang-Hsu, her nephew, to give up his throne. Set in the secretive walls of the Forbidden City, see how the “Dragon Empress” who believed that her power was an absolute necessity for the future of China faced the end of her long-lived dynasty.
WEST END THEATRE in the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew 263 West 86th Street 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10022
Previews - March 12-16 & 18 @ 8pm, Sun. March 16 @ 3pm. Opening Night - Wednesday, March 19 @ 7:30pm.
Regular Performances - Wed. thru Sat. @ 8pm, Sun @ 3pm. Wednesdays, March 26, April 2 & 9 @ 11am. $10 per student and one free teacher ticket per group (10+). Includes a Study Guide, mailed prior to performance.
Preview Week (March 12-16, & 18): Adult - $30, Student/Senior - $15 Any Group (10+) - $15 (1 complimentary ticket per groups of 10+)
Opening Night: $75 (regular), $150 (patron); includes post performance Gala Dinner.
Regular Performances: Adult - $39, Student/Senior/Group (10+) - $25, College Group (10+) - $20 (1 complimentary ticket per groups of 10+) ***Call TICKET CENTRAL for Individual Tickets
For more info call Pan Asian Rep at 212-868-4030 or E-mail us at PanAsian@Aol.com
About the Play
Synopsis: Shen Tai, a poor actor, is imprisoned within the Forbidden City for daring to impersonate the Empress Dowager Tzu-hsi in performances on the streets of Peking. By 1898 the "Dragon Empress" is an aging regent who has few pleasures in life. Contact with this young commoner from outside the walls inspires her with renewed energy. She orders him to spy on her nephew, the Emperor Kuang-Hsu, while pretending to give lessons in speech and comportment.
Influenced by his tutor, Kang Yu-Wei, Kang-Hsu secretly issues decrees for reform to propel China into the modern era, thus infuriating the Empress who forces him to abdicate to her. Tzu-hsi banishes the deposed Emperor to isolation on the Ocen Terrace where, surrounded by water, he falls into an opium haze.
As the western nations march into the capital demanding more and more concessions in land and trading rights, Tzu-hsi plots to destroy them. Mobilizing her legitimate army and the force of the "Boxers", vigilante members of a secret society who believe themselves impervious to bullets, she orders an all-out siege to kill all foreigners and free China from their grip. When European reinforcements arrive in Peking to surround the Forbidden City, Tzu-hsi realizes her only change for survival is to escape, disguised as a peasant. She has discovered that her great love of China and her fierce defense of the Dragon Throne are not enough to save the dynasty from the inevitable onslaught of the future.
About the Star
Tina Chen is an actor, director and producer. Her staged roles include Ying Ying in THE JOY LUCK CLUB, Ana in FAMILY DEVOTIONS by David Henry Hwang, Leila in ARTHUR AND LEILA, and Helena in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. Her Films include THE HAWAIIANS, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR and most recently FACE. On Television, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her performance in THE FINAL WAR OF OLLY WINTER. She received a Drama Desk Award nomination as part of the producing team for THE RINK and is currently directing the play, AT A PLANK BRIDGE for TNC. Ms.Chen is the chairperson of the Women's Project and Productions, and is on the National Council of the Aspen Music Festival & School. She also volunteers for the Jewish Board of Family & Children's Services, the Red Cross & the Lighthouse Inc.
About the Playwright
Ruth Wolff has written many tour de force roles for actors and actresses. Her play THE ADBICATION premiered at the Bristol Old Vic and has been performed worldwide. With screenplay by Ms. Wolff, the Warner Bros. film of THE ABDICATION starred Liv Ullmann and Perter Finch. The Kennedy Center produced her play SARAH IN AMERICA starring Lilli Palmer, directed by Sir Robert Helpmann. Ms. Wolff's film THE INCREDIBLE SARAH starred Glenda Jackson. Her play THE SECOND MRS. WILSON premiered last year at the Barter Theatre. Ms. Wolff's other plays include GEORGE AND FREDERIC, THE PERFECT MARRIAGE, BUFFALOES, THE WALTZ, and her newest play, AVIATORS.
About the Director
TISA CHANG is a director and actor, as well as Artistic/Producing Director of Pan Asian Repertory Theatre. Directing highlights include RETURN OF THE PHOENIX, the bilingual adaptation of the Peking Opera, SHANGHAI LIL'S, THE JOY LUCK CLUB, and RASHOMON. Recent awards include: 2002 OCA- Long Island Lifetime Achievement Award, 2002 Urban Stages Honoree, 2001 Lee Reynolds Award from The League of Professional Theatre Women, 1991 Barnard College Medal of Distiction, and 1988 Special Theatre World Award on behalf of Pan Asian Rep. Ms. Chang has been invited to many countries in Asia, the former Soviet Union, France, and looks forward to bringing RASHOMON to the Havana Theatre Festival in Cuba (September 2003). She is on the Executive Board of SSDC, the union of stage directors and choreographers.
|Empress of China
Reviewed By Jeanette Toomer
Wolff's "Empress of China" enjoys a colorful revival with
directorial innovation by Tisa Chang that adds an impressive cultural
flair to this production. Led by Tina Chen in a bristling performance as
the Empress, and painted vibrantly with stellar lighting by Kazuko Oguma,
all things work together for wholly satisfying results.
Chang endows a less-central figure, Shen Tai, an actor (Arthur T. Acu?a), with Peking operatic dance and stylized martial arts to creatively imagine and pantomime slices of this historical-political drama. This well-executed display and exquisite period costumes by Pei-Chi Su convey the brilliance of the beauty and artistry of Chinese culture threatened by European "foreigners."
The play begins near the end of the 19th century as the Empress punishes a jailed actor for ridiculing her in a public performance. She spares his life on the promise that he will tutor the young Emperor, Kuang-Hsu, in the skills of domination and control. She finds Kuang-Hsu easily impressed and swayed into opening wide the doors of China to Western influence, ostensibly through the work of missionaries and schools.
When Kuang-Hsu signs decrees into law without the Empress' approval, she imprisons him. After a failed assassination attempt, she seizes power and orders foreign delegations to leave the city. She orders the army and a loyal guerilla group to kill all foreigners. Finally, with outside armies threatening to take over Peking, the Empress bravely leaves the palace to meet them.
Chen is indomitable and cruel as the Empress, and Richard Chang is the perfect contrast as the weak Emperor. Tran T. Thuc Hanh is spineless as his wife, while Rosanne Ma is assertive as the young pearl concubine.
Ernest Abuba as Jung Lu, a general who is also the Empress' former lover, reveals their deeper connection by simply touching her hand. Tom Matsusaka ably portrays the chief eunuch, and Ron Nakahara is the tutor, Kang Yu-Wei, who suffers unspeakable torture.
EMPRESS OF CHINA
Order of Appearance:
Tai (played by Arthur T. Acuña)
– a poor street performer who is imprisoned
for daring to impersonate the Empress Dowager Tzu-hsi. Although he is not an
actual figure in history, Shen Tai serves as a vital character in Tzu-hsi’s
rise to power.
by Tina Chen)
– a Manchu who, as the only concubine
to give the Emperor a heir, steadily rises in power so that by 1898, she rules
as Regent to her nephew, Emperor Kuang-Hsu. She was one of the most formidable
women in modern history. During her life in politics, Tzu-his was clever and
masterful, but her narrow-mindedness and ultra-conservatism in government
policy, prior to the end of the Boxer Rebellion, hurt China.
by Richard Chang) – a young
man cowed by his forceful aunt, Empress Tzu-hsi, and in trying to effect reforms
to bring China into the modern world, earns her wrath and is forced to abdicate
his imperial powers to her. Kuang-Hsu was the ninth emperor of the Ch’ing
Kang Yu-Wei (played by Ron Nakahara) – progressive tutor to Emperor Kuang-Hsu who advocates reforms to propel China into the new century. Kang Yu-Wei was also a philosopher and reform movement leader. In 1898, Emperor Kuang-Hsu summoned Kang to Beijing to draw up reform plans. Tzu-hsi imprisoned the Emperor and rescinded most of the reforms. Kang fled to Japan.
(played by Tran T. Thuc Hanh)
– unhappy wife to Emperor Kuang-Hsu,
who is despised by her husband and used by Empress Tzu-hsi as a spy. Originally,
Kuang-Hsu was forced by Tzu-hsi to make Lung-Yu Empress; this may explain why
she stood by the Dowager Empress through all the troubled times of 1898-1900, in
spite of the fact that her imperial aunt had taken her husband’s throne.
Pearl Concubine (played
by Rosanne Ma) – beloved of
Emperor Kuang-Hsu, who knows her only chance for happiness, even survival, is to
bear him a child. She had supported Emperor Kuang-Hsu’s reform and had become
his favorite. The Pearl Concubine had once even dared to tell Tzu-hsi that she
had no right to usurp the emperor’s power.