Chinese show translated for on-campus production

Director Leon Wang ’19, an English major for whom this production is his directorial debut, highlighted the invaluable collaborative input from his cast, pictured above. / Courtesy of Omri Bareket
The most recent Philaletheis production, “Time Long Past” will be performed from April 14-15. Translated by the director from the original Chinese play, it explores the impermanence of life. / Courtesy of Philaletheis Society

“Imagine an acclaimed Broadway show, but for 20 dollars,” mused Leon Wang ’19, who is directing “Time Long Past,” a Philaletheis theater production.

“Time Long Past” will be staged in the Mug on Friday, April 14, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, April 15 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Wang saw such a show in Shanghai four year ago, and expanded on how it inspired him: “[D]espite its low cost, simplistic design and uncomplicated plot, I was completely swept away. I really loved the show, and I felt the need to bring it to Vassar audiences, but I’m not a director or a drama student. I’m an English major. Yet, this past summer, there was this raging debate within me because I saw it several years ago, but it continued to impact me—I still remembered it so clearly.”

“I decided I would translate it from Mandarin, localize it to American values and put it on stage,” he continued, explaining his approach to the formation of this project. “I know it was very ambitious of me considering I have no experience but I know how much people love theater at Vassar, and I felt they really needed to see this show.”

Wang looked at me and shrugged his shoulders, casually brushing off the incredible feat that he was so close to pulling off. “Time Long Past,” the show that will be the culmination of Wang’s passionate vision. With a seven-person cast, this show’s central theme is time.

The story begins with a young man named Chrono Tickins waking up to find himself dead. His memories are washed away, and he doesn’t know why he is dead—all he knows is that he does not want to be.

After begging Death relentlessly for a second chance at life, he is offered a deal: He can get his life back if he is able to find four ghosts lingering in the underworld, hear the stories of each and tend to their unresolved issues so that they can move on to the afterlife.

The catch is that he has to do all of this within the span of two hours to avoid a fate of being “buried and forgotten under the indifference of time,” as the event description elucidated.

Wang explained, “The original play literally translates to ‘Shouting Against the Time.’ While the plot was simple, what really pulled me in were the four people’s stories. It was incredibly powerful, and I could feel the gravity of their struggles deep within me. The ghosts speak of friendship and betrayal, unrequited love, mutual love that ended on bad terms, and war and family.”

He delineated how immensely human the theme of time really is, saying, “[What struck me most was] the influence of time on people’s lives, how time must be cherished or you may end up regretful, and very simply, how the way you treat people can really affect them, sometimes for a much longer time than you ever expected.”

Stage manager Sarah Rivers ’20 expressed similar views: “The show has a very touching ending, and very sweet aspects that speak to the human experience. It feels different from a lot of the student theater I have done here. There are a lot of subtleties in the show, and I hope that the audience will be able to pick up on many of those nuances.”

While the script is deeply moving, it also incorporates flashes of humor. As Matt Stein ’18 [Full disclosure: Stein is the Assistant Features Editor at The Miscellany News], who plays the role of Bobby Weight, explained, “The characters’ names have puns in them, something that was seen in the original show as well. For example, Chrono Tickins is named for the fact that the clock is tickin’.” These puns may just be some of the subtleties Rivers was referring to.

Sharing his perspective as an actor, Stein continued, “The plot is structured such that each person’s story is a different act. As a result, each character gets their moment in the limelight. Therefore, nobody is a side character—we are all an ensemble of stars.”

Wang’s journey that brought him to this point is one to be reckoned with. Once he decided he wanted to take on this project, he first had to get ahold of the script as well as the copyright from the original producers.

“They were extremely supportive, and I didn’t even have to pay them anything!” exclaimed Wang.

“They understood that I was a college student who just loved their work and wanted to share it with others. In fact, I’m not sure if this will end up happening, but they may fly out here to watch the North American premier of what they had initially conceptualized.”

He then had to go through the complicated affair of reproducing the script for Vassar, which entailed not only translating the piece from the original Chinese version, but also rewriting it to match both his own style as well as standard cultural norms for a United States audience.

“I did not want any possible confusion regarding cultural references to distract audiences from the show itself. So I spent a great deal of time finding equivalent cultural phenomena that could very easily be understood—for example, replacing a sticky bun stand with a hot dog stand,” he mentioned.

Wang had to rewrite most of the script, eventually maintaining only the structure of the plot from the original one. It took him roughly a semester. He later showed it to the original producers, and claimed that they really enjoyed the way he adapted it for American audiences.

In regards to his directing debut, he explained, “I had no experience, but if I loved the script, I thought there must be someone else who would feel the same way if I showed it to them.”

“My team really helped me navigate my way,” he continued. “Some of them have professional theater experience and some are new to it like me. Their input has been invaluable—many a times, the stage manager or the actors will make suggestions because they interpret characters in different ways, and it gives me a very new and interesting perspective. I’ve definitely learned a lot from them.”

Rivers spoke about their teamwork as well: “There are a lot of first-timers on the show, which is fun because we all learn together. Its far more collaborative than I’m used to, which I really like.”

In parting, Wang responded to finally seeing his dream realized: “I’m excited to see how it turns out. Once it is up, I look forward to just sitting back and watching it as a part of the audience, like I did four years ago in Shanghai.”

 

 

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