Hsiao Wenhua, MFA, Graduate Institute of Theatre Arts and Playwriting, Taipei National University of the Arts
The Village is an important part of the Performance Workshop repertoire: since its première in 2008, the stage play has been performed more than a hundred times, all over the world. The play was born of producer Wang Weizhong’s efforts to conserve the culture of the military dependents’ villages. Wang has released a documentary All My Mothers in the Village (2006) and a soap opera Story of Time (2008). Playwright and director Stan Lai has also written such plays as Secret Love in Peach Blossom Spring (1986) and A Dream Like A Dream (2013), which deeply connect with the feelings of the communities involved.
The Village is based on Wang Weizhong’s hometown, Jianguoercun (“Nation Building Village No. 2”) in Chiayi. It describes how the K.M.T. government came over to Taiwan in 1949 and tells the story of the people who crossed the sea with them. The play begins with a comic scene as people queue up to be allocated a house. This sets the scene for the main three families: driver Xiaoyang (who has taken the identity of his friend Old Zhao, who was killed in battle) is bringing his fiancée and her mother, old Mrs. Qian, from Beijing. They live at number 99. Old Zhou, a bachelor and ex-pilot, lives at number 98. In between the two stands the jerry-built number 98-1, propped up by an electricity pole. This is the dwelling of Xiaozhu, who was not assigned a house, and his unmarried pregnant bensheng girlfriend Chen Xiu'e. 1
When they first come to Taiwan, they all think that one day they will be able to go back home and they live in the expectation that they will not have to stay long. But time passes and nothing happens. They settle down and have children. Then, with the passing of Chiang Kai-shek, they finally realize their homeland is lost to them forever.
But the story does not end there. The play also portrays the growing up of the first generation of children in the village and shows the bittersweet moment when, in 1987, martial law is lifted and people are finally permitted to go back to China to visit their families. When Xiaoyang’s adopted son Xiaomao returns to China in place of his dead father, his grandmother inexplicably clips him around the ear and barks at him, “That was for your father, but I gave it to you. He said he was just going out to have a bit of fun. Well, that was forty years ago and he still hasn’t come back home!” The deepest source of regret is how families were torn asunder and forced to live apart.
The play spans a period of around fifty years, from 1949 up to the turn of the millennium. The play has drawn many structural comparisons with Lao She’s play Teahouse, and many believe that this play successfully reconstructs and records the postwar period, laying bare the political and personal turmoil of people living in Taiwan during that part of its history.
The resounding success of the play’s enthusiastic reprisal of these themes is due to both the playwright’s skill and the actors’ outstanding performances. The first performance brought together an experienced and talented cast, including Qu Zhongheng, Feng Yigang, Song Shaoqing, Na Weixun, Shi Yixiu, Lang Zuyun, Hu Tingting, Wan Fang, and Xu Yanling. Stan Lai’s expert use of group improvisation has enabled the cast to make the village feel like a real place, a place in which the audience can invest their feelings. When the play is over and the audience members stand up to leave, each one of them is presented with a savory bun, just like the “Tianjin Buns” that Mrs. Qian makes and which sustain Xiaozhu’s family. It is a fitting finale, blending art and life in a moving and modest gesture.
1The term bensheng (literally “this province”) indicates people whose families have lived in Taiwan for generations, often several hundred years. By contrast, waisheng (literally “extraprovincial”) is used to refer to Chinese people who came to Taiwan in the late 1940s and early 1950s and their descendants.
|Related Literary Themes：||Writings from Military Dependents’ Villages|