Comic drama sows tragic seeds
China Daily, 07/19/2001

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SHANGHAI: A jilted wife is so despondent, she sets out on this particular day to kill herself. Yet that same day, she finds herself having to convince three other woman not to commit suicide, prompting important introspection. Tragedy or comedy? Perhaps "An Ordinary Day," at the Shanghai Drama Salon is a bit of both. The 15-year-old play, written by Italian director Dario Fo, is performed in English through July 22. The lead character, Julia, was abandoned by her husband exactly a year ago. She plans to kill herself and document the whole day on video as a form of revenge against him. Yet her phone number is mistakenly given in a mental health magazine, prompting phone calls very day from three women seeking help, including a deranged housewife, a crazy prostitute and a doctor named Katie. It is through these talks that Julia realizes her own madness and value as a person. "On the surface, it looks like a comic play, because the audience will laugh from the beginning to the end," director David Jiang said. Look closer. The witty dialogue and exciting stage presentation are part of the dark-comedy device beneath which tragedy bubbles. Fo's characters, themes and scenarios follow the tradition of improvisational comedy, heavily influenced by Italy's commedia dell'arte. He often uses humour as a weapon to fight against the injustices of society, paying close attention to the inequalities between men and women. The play is charged with paradoxes. Julia, a woman on the verge of suicide, must persuade others not to kill themselves. Strange women in pain give Julia the courage to live. And after Julia decides to carry on, she is deprived the right of living like a normal person because she is sent to a mad house. "Lying under the comedy is Dario Fo's serious exploration of our current society," commented David Jiang. "This play highlights the plight of modern women who struggle to be equal to men not simply on a professional level, but on an emotional and sexual level as well." The play is staged in a big living room shaped like a birdcage and decorated with Matisse's woman-theme paintings on the walls. "This symbolizes that Julia is actually living in a spiritual and emotional cage made by men and society," set designer Lu Ping said. Three big screens are on the walls, intended to document the process of Julia's planned suicide. Julia is played by 20-year-old Charlotte MacInnis, who was born in the United States but raised in China. "She is a very diligent student," Jiang said. "She practises so hard that she is the best person for the role." Veteran director Jiang is a 1964 graduate from the Shanghai Theatre Academy who studied at New York University in 1989 as a visiting scholar. In 1997, he received his PhD degree from Leeds University in Britain. Among his lengthy list of achievements, he has directed "Miss X," "The Key to the Elevator," "The Wilderness," "Truth," "Return from Utopia," "Macbeth" and "Make Trouble out of Nothing."

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See also: Yankee girl with Chinese flavour
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