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December 3, 2010

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A bit of insanity goes a long way

FOR the upcoming holiday season, Shanghai theater-goers can expect not only laughter but also a little bit of "craziness."

Two plays have the word feng (crazy) in their Chinese names. "Tian Tang De Ge Bi Shi Feng Ren Yuan" ("The Insane Asylum Is Next Door to Heaven") by established local playwright Yu Rongjun stars famous Chinese actress Mei Ting. "Feng Kuang Dian Shi Tai" ("Crazy TV Station") by veteran Taiwanese TV producer Wang Wei Chung will also be staged.

"The Insane Asylum," which premiered 10 years ago, is an absurd play about five mental patients in an asylum. The performance features stories based on the real-life experiences of the patients.

The patients include Wu Suo, a man who feels so lonely that he pays people to talk to him; Yang Ren, a former lawyer who is confused about his real identity; Li Bai, a young man who thinks he is a famous poet; Mi Mi, a young lady who once sold pirated DVDs on the street; and Zhou Wentian, a woman who suffers from serious depression.

Their stories also reflect the changes in Chinese society in recent years including lust for money and the abandoning of ancient traditions.

Both female roles are depicted by actress Mei, who is known for playing soft, feminine characters. It is also the first time in a decade that Mei will perform on stage.

To better understand her roles, Mei says that she has watched many movies on similar topics such as "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," as well as talked to doctors and psychologists.

"It is a great challenge for me, physically and psychologically," she says. "There are a lot of intense scenes. I often felt exhausted during rehearsals."

Director Yin Zhusheng believes that there is a "crazy little man" inside everyone. "Through the play I'd like to 'awaken' that little man in the hearts of everyone watching," he says.

Playwright Yu says he doesn't expect the audience to understand what the play is talking about - not at all.

"Everyone will have a different explanation of the play," he says. "I just hope that people will be touched by some little moments, or some lines, and feel those words deep inside."

"Crazy TV Station," on the other hand, is a black comedy through which the audience will take a peek into what is happening in Taiwan's prosperous entertainment industry. Producer Wang has been working in the industry for more than 20 years and is dubbed as the "godfather of the entertainment industry."

Taiwan is an island province but has more than 230 TV channels and the competition is getting intense. The play depicts how a dying channel with only two employees and a tiny budget has managed to "revive." A lot of hilarious stories - based on true ones - are told in the play.

The stage is designed as a real sitcom set with three cameras shooting from different angles. The audience will be able to capture even the slightest changes in the actors' facial expressions projected on the backdrop.

Besides the two "crazy" plays, another production exploring young Chinese people's lives, "Simata vs Han Han," will make its debut.

Han Han is the name of one of the most popular young writers in China today, who has also developed a successful career as a professional car racer. In the play, however, it is the name of six young people from different cities and backgrounds. And they have one thing in common: They are all born in the 1980s.

Director Huang Ying says that he wants the play to be a real showcase of today's young Chinese people, including their happiness, sadness, puzzles and hopes.

"I want to show how they adapt themselves to meet the needs of society, and how they try so hard to release the pressure from both work and family," he says.

"The Insane Asylum is Next Door to Heaven"

Date: December 7-11, 7:15pm

Venue: Shanghai Grand Theater, 300 People's Ave

Tickets: 100-580 yuan

Tel: 962-388

"Simata vs Han Han"

Date: December 15-19, 7:30pm

Tickets: 100-300 yuan

Tel: 6256-8282

Venue: Shanghai Art Theater, 466 Jiangning Rd

"Crazy TV Station"

Date: January 6-9, 6:30pm

Venue: Shanghai Art Theater, 466 Jiangning Rd

Tickets: 180-880 yuan

Tel: 6270-2588


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