THOUGHTS: The Story of Yu-Huan

Ashley Liang as the title character in "The Story of Yu-Huan"

Ashley Liang as the title character in “The Story of Yu-Huan”

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.

Alexander Reed and cast

Alexander Reed and cast

Highlights:
The beautiful set design by Edward Morris, consisting of large panels and a glorious backdrop that spanned the full length of the stage. Christina Watanabe’s lighting design and Harrison Xu HaoJian’s colorful costumes also helped set the tone for China 708 A.D. A powerful story is told here with great integrity.

                                                                                                   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.

Ashley Liang and cast

Ashley Liang and cast

Director and Playwright Joanna Chan has assembled and fostered a unique ensemble of talented artists to bring this story to life. As Chan’s final directing piece for Yangtze Repertory Theatre, she bids us farewell with a culturally inspired gift that is “The Story of Yu-Huan.” Go check it out!
                                                                                            The Story of Yu-Huan plays at Theater For The New City, 155 First Avenue through June 22, 2014. Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30PM; Sundays at 3:00PM; added performance on Wednesday 6/18 at 7:30PM. Tickets are $25 general admission; $20 for seniors and students. Wednesdays and Thursdays are pay-what-you-can. To purchase tickets visit www.smarttix.com or call 212-868-4444.
 Cast: Ashley Liang, Charles Pang, Eric Zhang, Alexander Reed, Sheila Romo, Ave Cheung, Allison T. Chi, Lu Zhao, Ricky Lin, Alli Urbanik, XueMing Chen, Elisa Pupko, Sarah Young, Brandi Dyer, Jeremy Rafal, Gary Sugai, Bill Engst, and Michael Lin.

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