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Star power explains Greek tragedy

By Mu Qian (China Daily)

14:21, April 15, 2013

The Chinese production of Oedipus the King features Yao Lu and Jiang Shan as Oedipus and Jocasta. (China Daily)

A production of Oedipus the King in which Oedipus and Jocasta speak Mandarin may help Chinese audiences understand the ancient Greek drama, but it's the star power of actors Yao Lu and Jiang Shan that will really keep the crowds captivated.

Yao, who has appeared in films such as Let the Bullets Fly and Confucius, and Jiang, a veteran of TV drama, star in the Chinese version Oedipus the King, which premiered at the National Center for the Performing Arts on April 11.

Directed by Li Liuyi, Oedipus the King has a four-show run at the NCPA, closing on April 14. The run will be followed by a re-staging of Li's earlier play, the Greek tragedy Antigone, at the same venue on April 16 and 17.

"Jocasta is probably the most difficult role for me since I began to study drama, because the extreme conflicts and emotions that she experienced are impossible for me to experience in real life," Jiang says. "But Li helps us find a way to interpret the Greek drama."

Written by Sophocles, Oedipus the King was first performed in 429 BC. The play chronicles the story of Oedipus, the king of Thebes who was destined from birth to murder his father Laius and marry his mother Jocasta. A classic tragedy, it explores how Oedipus' own faults, and not simply fate, contribute to the tragic hero's downfall. Over the centuries, Oedipus the King has come to be regarded by many as the best of the Greek tragedies.

"Although ancient Greek tragedy sounds remote from us, it is incumbent upon us to present this world classic to Chinese audiences," says Li, whose works include traditional Chinese operas, avant-garde theater, Western operas and ballets.

The play has been funded by Li's personal studio, and he does not expect the show to turn a profit.

"It is very hard to stage this play, but I both enjoy and learn from the process," he says. "We hope to deliver through the play dignity, freedom and love."

Oedipus the King is the second work of Li's "Made in China" project, which will ultimately total six works.

Li calls it "Made in China", in an effort to alter the underlying meaning of the phrase that he says is a somewhat derogatory term to describe products of low quality. He wants to change its meaning by offering spiritual works from China.

Antigone, which premiered in Beijing in November, was the first of the six works. The play toured to Singapore in February and was presented at the Huayi Festival.

Li's next work will be Prometheus Bound, which will premiere in early 2014. In the second phase of the "Made in China" project, Li will direct a trilogy based on the Tibetan epic King Gesar.

"Ancient Greek dramas interpret the noble spirits of human beings, while King Gesar eulogizes the unvarnished goodness and beauty of the world," Li says. "'Made in China' is the voice of drama and it's a very human voice."

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