Source: Courtesy of Contemporary Legend Theatre
In 2001, Wu Hsing-kuo, the artistic director of the Contemporary Legend Theatre (CLT, Taipei), returned to the stage after disbanding his company two years earlier. His solo performance of King Lear reflects his own personal struggle to rediscover his own identity as an actor and to define the mission of the CLT in the 21st century: “to safeguard tradition but also to allow it to confront modernity, thereby giving birth to a third approach that will extend the future of Beijing opera.” In the 120-minute solo performance King Lear which premiered on July 6, 2001, Wu skillfully used props, costume, and different Beijing opera role types, both male and female, to perform the different characters on the stage.
Read Alex Huang’s study of Lear Is Here in his book Chinese Shakespeares
Strings Leader, Jinghu – Sidney Zee
Percussion Leader, Percussion – Chin Yen-long
San Hsian – Chen Pei-chien
Yuequin – Che Yu-tung
Pipa – Pan Hua-ting
Hsiao Luo, Wind Instruments – Li Han-chiang
Taluo – Yeh Chun-ming
Cymbals – Wu Chen-han
Bei Gehu, Jinghu – Chu Chien-chih
The aging King Lear decides to abdicate. He divides his kingdom among his three daughters so long as they declare publicly how much they love him.
Goneril and Regan, the two elder daughters, falsely profess their love to gain his fortune whereas Cordelia, along with the King of France, her fiancé, sadly leave her beloved father.
The two elder daughters soon betray their father after they have secured their shares. As expected, the two elder daughters, having obtained all, conspire to have her old father driven out of their houses. The enraged and humiliated Lear goes insane. He wanders about the heath in the raging storm, accompanied only by the Fool, Kent, the blinded Gloucester, and the unjustly exiled Edgar in disguise as a Bedlam beggar.
Cordelia, having married the King of France and learned of her father’s plight, lead the French forces back to England to rescue her neglected father. The French forces are defeated, however; and Cordelia is taken prisoner. King Lear witnesses, to his sadness, the death of his beloved Cordelia in the prison. In their fight against each other, the two elder daughters can not escape their fates of destruction. Lear does not realize Cordelia’s love for him until it is too late. Everything is destroyed because of his self-righteousness. Lear finally dies out of grief at Cordelia’s passing.
Act I – Role: King Lear
Wu Hsing-kuo enacts the role of King Lear, following the unique performing style of the great Beijing opera masters. Delusional and traumatized in body and mind, Lear is running and shouting in the storm. His past is haunting and tormenting his unstable mind. Wu combines the movement of dance and the rhythm of the modern theater, lamenting the indignities Lear has suffered.
Act II – Roles: Fool, Dog, King Lear, Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, Earl of Gloucester, Edmund, and Edgar
Wu transitions form his singular Lear to the portrayal of almost all the play’s major roles. In contrast to Lear, with his high-key signing and movement in Act I, the characters in Act II are varied and heterogeneous. If Act I presents the tragic “old gentleman” (sheng) type, then Act II demonstrates the satiric role of the “clown” (chou) in traditional Beijing opera.
Act III – Role: Wu Hsing-kuo
Lear is summoned from a remote place and appears like a ghost. Narrating the rising and vanishing of human lives in a ritualistic way, Wu’s singing and movement are intended to present the changing nature of life and the loss of the past.
Role Types of Beijing Opera
Sheng – The main role, sheng is either civil or military. Actors are trained for three primary parts: lao sheng, a middle-aged or old man who wears a beard; xiao sheng, a young man; and wu sheng, a military character who is especially skilled in acrobatics.
Dan – Dan refers to any female role in Beijing opera and can be divided into six subtypes: qing yi, modest and virtuous; hua dan, flirtatious; gui men dan, a young, married girl; dao ma dan, a stronger, more forceful character such as a female general; wu dan, the female acrobat; and lao dan, an old woman.
Jing – The jing is a painted-face male role and is usually a forceful character, so a jing must have a strong voice and be able to exaggerate gestures. The three main types of jing roles include dongchui, a loyal general with a black face who excels at singing; jiazi, a complex character played by a skilled actor; and wu jing, a martial and acrobatic character.
Chou – The chou is a male clown role (the name of the role is a homophone of the Mandarin word for “ugly”). Chou parts can be divided into two types: wen chou, usually a civilian such as a jailer, servant, merchant, or scholar; and wu chou, a military character, such as a soldier, who must be skilled in acrobatics.
[Description includes excerpts from production playbill and Contemporary Legend Theatre website.]
Li’er zaici (Lear is Here)
Note: This is the full video
Note: Wu as Lear addresses the mask he has removed as if were a mirror, removes make-up.
Note: The Fool presents himself as Lear's shadow, reflection, alterego, or even the author of the story.
Note: In the final act of Lear is Here, Wu appears as "himself" but also as a monk on a spiritual quest and questions the justice of the heavens.
Note: WU Hsing-kuo in female dress, but without make-up performs Goneril's declaration of love to King Lear.