Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America was founded in 1992 and has become New York’s most significant entry point for dramatic works by Asian artists. Friday night I travelled to NYC’s East Village to see their latest production, “The Story of Yu-Huan” presented by Theatre for the New City. Written and directed by the theatre’s Artistic Director of 22 years Joanna Chan, “The Story of Yu-Huan” centers on a woman born of royal lineage during the Tang Dynasty who trained as an artist. The play tells the story of her remarkable life and the tragic death that marked the end of 130 years of unprecedented prosperity in the Middle Kingdom.
The show boasts an energetic multi-ethnic cast of 18, of whom 9 are truly of Chinese descent. The rest are either Filipino, Hawaiian, African American, or Caucasian. Every cast member speaks in authentic Mandarin Chinese, and very convincingly I might add. The play, dubbed “a bilingual drama with dance,” is performed in English and Mandarin, though the bulk of the piece is in Mandarin. Characters switch back and forth between the two languages frequently. It was an ambitious idea to say the least. While I struggled to follow parts of the story line, the piece, told with great heart and passion, was still captivating to watch.
The show is at its best during the dance numbers. There are many fine dancers in the cast. Alexander Reed impresses with his smooth martial arts choreography. Ashley Liang in the title role as Yu-Huan is magnificent. Not only is her dancing beautiful, with her light and effortless movement, she is flexible as can be as a lithe acrobat. Moreover, she truly commands the stage with her powerful storytelling abilities. Her final moment in the show is heartbreaking as she fights for love even until her final moment of death. All dances are performed to original music by composers XiRen Wang and Su Sheng. The music in the show is very beautiful and the sound effects are powerful.