'A Dream Like a Dream' comes to Singapore
By Corrie Tan, The Straits Times/Asia News Network
February 4, 2014, 8:15 am TWN
SINGAPORE--Taiwanese director and playwright Stan Lai, the eloquent wordsmith behind lavish, talky pieces of theater, cannot seem to find the words to describe what might be his most epic work of all.
"It just sort of came to me?" the 59-year-old theater icon sounds almost apologetic over a crackling telephone connection from Beijing.
"It's hard to describe," he says in fluent English and filling his sentences with uncharacteristic pauses. "But, uh, when it came — it came in complete form in my mind. And, uh, I wrote it down. And, uh, it turned out to be a 29-page outline."
Given that most of his scripts are about 50 to 60 pages, he knew that this was going to be a long one.
There is a reason for his hesitance in describing the conception of the eight-hour "A Dream Like A Dream (2000)," possibly his most ambitious work to date and first staged in Taipei to critical acclaim that same year. It has been given a rapturous reception in China and Hong Kong and will be staged in Singapore for the first time at the Esplanade's Huayi Chinese Festival of Arts from Feb. 6 to Feb. 9.
The masterpiece about death, life and redemption seems divinely inspired, summoned into existence when Lai was in India for a Buddhism seminar in 1999.
He found himself in a rut, under pressure to write a play for a Taiwanese university, but he "didn't have a very good notion" of what he wanted to do. And then, while at Bodh Gaya, said to be the place where the Buddha obtained enlightenment, several strands of thought coalesced into a coherent whole and he began to write.
One of his touchpoints was the Tibetan "Book of Living and Dying," a book on the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. He says: "One page triggered it all, about a doctor who had a few patients die on her first day on the job, and she was very disconcerted because none of her training made her capable of dealing with her dying patients at the moment of death."
This is exactly how "Dream's" main plot begins, with a young doctor who is devastated when she loses most of her patients on her first day at work.
But she takes the time to listen to the story of her final patient, and what transpires is a tale that weaves together many lives — including a Shanghainese courtesan and a French diplomat — inextricably bound in their cycles of love and suffering.
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