Under the cross-shaped iron web and on the torture desk, the blood-red bottom light illuminates everyone tortured, facing their choices at the moment and for the rest of their lives.
"The cross-shaped properties stand for the crossroads in one's life," director Diao Haiming said in the Experimental Theater of the Central Academy of Drama (CAD), China's number one drama college.
Diao used the crosses in one of French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre's "plays of situation," "Death Without Burial," to convey Sartre's philosophy that everyone is free to make choices.
The play marked the centennial of Sartre (1905-80), and was played in CAD from June 18 to Monday.
On the eve of World War II's end, five French guerrillas are captured by the fascists and later their leader Juan is anonymously imprisoned into the same jail. Confronted with the enemy's various torture instruments, everyone makes his or her choice.
Saubier cannot bear the torture and keeps the secret by jumping out of the window to commit suicide, and Canori is calm and intends to seek for life by making a false confession in light of Juan's idea.
Francois mentally collapses and is choked to death by his associate after planning to confess, and Hanry is so angered by his associates' doubt that he kills Francois out of indignation.
Lucie, Juan's lover and Francois' elder sister, intends to die after being raped and her brother's death, but chooses to live finally; and even Juan is harassed with the choice between the life of Francois and other 60 guerrillas.
"Death Without Burial" is Sartre's first play after WWII. Except Francois, in his opinion, the jailed guerrillas are heroes of existentialism, because they make the right "free choices" in the "extreme situation."
In Sartre's "plays of situation," the playwright is inclined at the beginning to place characters in an "extreme situation," which is full of crises and predicaments, and force them to choose their actions and be responsible for their choices. The point is to demonstrate the bitter courses of making choices and feature the conflict between characters' actions and the environment.
"There's no grief to die without burial, which is the choice and answer of the guerrillas," said director Diao, who held that the play has real-life significance today when people around the world celebrate the 60th anniversary of anti-fascist war's victory.
"As material life becomes increasingly better, people cannot evade examining themselves about their life value. They need the sublimation of life and sustenance of soul," he said.
When the play debuted in France in the 1950s, the audiences could not stand the screams during the torture; and when it was performed in the National Theater Company of China in late May, the stage effect of blood was also almost too lifelike.
Diao's stage, however, was so concise that a leaning iron web and two wooden platforms constitute the main part, with the audio- visual effect moderate. He pursued human nature's full expression.
Saubier is an irascible character. He chooses to die after coming to know he cannot bear the torture.
"The director asked me to show the figure's psychological gradation and not to be excited all the time. But I didn't do well in the episode of jumping out of the window when the thought changed too quickly," said Song Hongyi, who acted as Saubier.
The director also added a dance of Lucie and Juan in prison to redo the play. "The dance should have been imaginative to served as a foil to the tribulation and desperation of the characters," Diao said.