Lang Theater Presents: Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land
“Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land,” written and translated by Taiwan-based playwright and director Stan Lai and directed by Terry O’Reilly debuted on November 4 to a packed house at the Connelly Theater in the East Village.
The play details the conflict between two productions jousting for space on the same stage. Both plays present themselves as completely different in content, with a mutual sense of respect.
The work explores the societal affects of the Chinese Civil War and its impact on Chinese and Taiwanese nationals. The question remains: can a university theater group convey the emotional, cultural and historical significance of Tai’s work?
The first cast belongs to “Secret Love” — a heartfelt love story about sweethearts lost in the confusion of the Chinese Civil War. Forty years later, Jiang Bingliu (Josh Quat) lies on his deathbed in a Taipei Veterans Hospital. Yearning to reconnect with Yun (Frankie Wagner), the girl he last saw in a dim Shanghai park, Bingliu spurns his concerned wife (Sarah Willis), and takes an ad in the newspaper calling for her return — longing to reunite with his love gone astray.
Meanwhile, “Peach Blossom Land” is a slapstick performance about Tao (Derek Spaldo), who, when overwhelmed by his wife Blossom’s (Elsa Gil) infidelity, leaves home. Along his journey upstream, Tao unintentionally discovers a utopian wonderland of butterfly catching, free loving people who are entirely removed from society. Tao eventually returns home years later to find his wife and her new lover, Master Yuan (Julián Segura Mijares), still discontented with life. Tao tries insistently to reconnect with his old life, but is instantly pushed away by his reactionary family, prompting his return to Peach Blossom Land.
Forced to share the same stage, the two productions taunt each other relentlessly — wrestling with failing props, arguing about who needs the stage more, and ultimately rehearsing side by side. The stage is graced with clever, well-constructed sets, transforming from an urban moonlit park to an elaborate antiquated home.
O’Reilly explained that actors were uniquely trained in Yoga and Tai chi, and were double — sometimes triple — cast for their roles in an effort to encourage discussion and versatility throughout the cast.
While it can be deceptive in its beginnings, the play gains speed with the emotional tale of Bingliu and Yun, and the crisp comedic proficiency of “Peach Blossom Land.”
Conflict between set changes lends a welcome lightheartedness to the stage, but also underlines the necessity of time as directors bicker passionately. The director of “Secret Love,” Robert Asch, desperately challenges his cast. “You are the orphan of the century!” he cries to Benliu in a voice stricken with anguish — perhaps a chilling allusion to the fate of Taiwan — a tale seemingly forgotten in our modern day.
O’Reilly’s production is a comprehensive depiction of what he calls “kind of a masterpiece.” But the intimate and riveting groundwork for Stan Lai’s 1986 creation feels worlds away in its Manhattan setting.
However, O’Reilly’s methods met criticism when final casting decisions were made four weeks into production. Some students lost their original parts or were assigned as understudies, leaving some actors disgruntled and others to exit the production.
O’Reilly criticized his staff’s lack of professionalism. “I think that the expectation in the professional world is that you go with what you’re given,” he said. “And I’m used to working with people who can pretty much run with any ball that you give them.”
Cast member John Gentile voiced his support for O’Reilly’s decisions. “The best person got the part they deserved to be in,” he said. “The strongest and the most appropriate choices were made.”