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Taking theater to a new and challenging stage

INTERACTION with the audience has become a popular theatrical technique used in more and more productions these days. One director, however, is trying to reverse the technique.

Meng Jinghui, arguably the most influential director of China's avant-garde stage, brings to Shanghai "Love Is Colder Than Death," one of his most favorite creations in recent years.

Meng's design features a huge glass wall, which completely blocks the audience from the actors on the stage. He describes it as "a whole new experience of acting and watching."

Everyone in the audience gets earphones when they enter the auditorium, so that they can understand what is going on on the stage - the thick glass screen stops sound getting out. The earphones help the audience hear even the slightest movements on the stage - when an actor turns a page in a newspaper or when another nibbles an apple.

"The glass wall serves as a respirator which keeps the audience away from all the 'bacteria' on stage," Meng explains. "It helps to filter those dark, cold and cruel spirits before they get to them."

Over 90 minutes, nine young actors tell the story which is adapted from German movie director Rainer Werner Fassbinder's film of the same name. It is a story about men and women, a criminal syndicate, and, above all, love, as is always the case with Meng's productions.

There are three main characters, Franz, who refuses to join a mob-type organization and insists on "working for himself" as a petty thief; his pal Bruno, who was sent by the organization to plot a bank robbery and kill Franz; and Joanna, Franz's call-girl girlfriend who in the end betrays Bruno to the police.

Released in 1969, "Love Is Colder Than Death" was Fassbinder's first feature film, which took the then 24-year-old only 24 days to shoot.

"I love the movie very much," Meng says. "It has many flaws but it is also a typically maiden work of a great master."

The constant conflicts and clashes are the highlights of the play. The sound is very close but the images seem to be far away. There is murder but there is also love.

Various characters, young and old, play seemingly irreverent parts, from a shop assistant to a passenger on a train, from a shoe maker to a cafe waitress. "Crazy and separate," as the director says.

More than 6,000 people saw "Love Is Colder Than Death" when it debuted in Beijing last year for 20 performances.

Meng, who once referred to audiences as carrots because "once you plant them, they will grow," obviously has a strong belief in and high expectations for the Shanghai audiences.

"I hope that the 10 performances in Shanghai this time will bring 2,000 audience to the theater," he says. "I will consider it an admirable success if an extreme, avant-garde play like this can attract 2,000 people in one city."

Another of Meng's signature works, "The Life Attitude of Two Dogs," a satirical play in which two human-like dogs comment on China's contemporary social problems, is playing in Shanghai for the third time. Both the previous two productions of the play, which is much easier understood than "Love Is Colder Than Death," were sold out almost immediately.

"Love Is Colder Than Death"

Date: through June 14, 7:30pm

Venue: Shanghai Drama Arts Theater, 288 Anfu Rd

Tickets: 150-200 yuan

Tel; 6473-0123

"The Life Attitude of Two Dogs"

Date: through June 14, 7:30pm

Venue: Shanghai Center Theater, 1376 Nanjng Rd W.

Tickets: 50-580 yuan

Tel: 6279-7132


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