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A 'Teahouse' From The Orient, Express To Expo

December 14, 1985|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

So far, the major news about the theatrical side of Vancouver's Expo 86 World Festival has been the groups who had dropped out--the National Theatre of Great Britain, Peter Brook's Paris company, etc. The National couldn't get the deal it wanted, and Brook was afraid the Vancouver audience wouldn't know enough French to understand his production of "Le Mahabarata."

For a while it looked as if local theater companies would have to pick up the slack. But we see by the brochure that Expo 86 will have some international groups after all--companies from Australia, Germany, Japan, Broadway ("42nd Street") and China.

The last is the most interesting. The Beijing People's Theatre will perform "Teahouse" at Vancouver May 5-10. This is not an exotic Peking opera, but a realistic play set in a Chinese teahouse over the years 1898-1948.

Arthur Miller mentions "Teahouse" in his book, "Salesman in Beijing." It was one of the plays banned during the Cultural Revolution for its incorrect ideology, and its revival in 1979 was a signal that a new wind was blowing in China. It's not been seen in the West, and it ought to be fascinating.

The Vancouver brochure notes: "In Mandarin. Simultaneous translation." Take that, Peter Brook.

The National Theatre of Great Britain is still coming to North America, however. It will bring two productions to Chicago's first International Theatre Festival this spring:the National's revival of that Jacobean shocker, "The Duchess of Malfi," opening April 28, and its twin sendup of theater critics, "The Real Inspector Hound" and "The Critic," opening May 14. Ian McKellen and Edward Petherbridge will be featured.

Also coming to Chicago are the Market Theatre of South Africa, the Haifa Theatre of Israel, El Tricicle of Spain and two groups seen at the Olympic Arts Festival--Japan's Suzuki Company (again performing "The Trojan Women") and the Italian clowns, I Colombaioni.

Plus a good assortment of work from the Chicago theaters that are beginning to be international names themselves--Steppenwolf, Wisdom Bridge, Body Politic. A good reason for heading east as well.

Louisville's big theater festival is dedicated to original plays. "The Gin Game," "Getting Out" and "Agnes of God" are three scripts that had their first important exposure at the Actors Theater of Louisville's Festival of New American Plays (now co-sponsored by the Humana Foundation). This year's festival will offer seven full-length plays and two one-acts. It runs from Feb. 19 to March 29, and the usual crush of agents and critics is expected. Today Louisville, tomorrow the world.

University theater has the American College Theatre Festival. One thing that's kept some schools from taking part is the cost of transporting shows to the regional semifinals and the national finals at the Kennedy Center. Now Ryder Systems Inc. is offering free use of its rental trucks to transport sets and costumes from home campuses to outlying theaters--an estimated $50,000 in-kind donation. That should increase the number of smaller schools who can afford to send shows to the festival.

Isn't it time, by the way, for the Kennedy Center to sponsor an American National Theatre Festival, with a dozen top productions from the Taper, the Goodman Theater of Chicago, Boston's American Repertory Theatre, etc? Perhaps Ryder could help with the transportation for that, too.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK. Sylvester Stallone in Rolling Stone: "I think the intelligentsia should understand that this country now is functioning on emotional energy more than intellectual energy."

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