Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Dance and the Railroad ***

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
Signature Theatre's has revived David Henry Hwang's 1981 play about two Chinese workers on the Transcontinental Railroad during the strike of 1867. Lone (Yuekun Wu) is a former student of Chinese opera, who has been forced by his family to abandon his studies to support them, He has become unpopular in the camp by remaining aloof from his countrymen and heading off to the mountain before and after work to practice his opera training routines. Ma (Ruy Iskander) is a naive young recent arrival who has an unrealistic view of the world. Ma begs Lone to teach him Chinese opera moves. Lone sorely tests his resolve. The two men share stories of how they left China. They improvise their own Chinese opera based on their personal experiences. The strike ends and they prepare to return to work. The play's major strength is not its narrative. The beauty of the men's graceful and evocative moves is what one is likely to remember. Wu makes a perfect Lone: his gravitas, his arrogance and his grace are all superbly captured. Iskander has the right moves and naivete for Ma, but unfortunately sounds more like a native of the Bronx than of China. Mimi Lien's stunningly simple abstract set is gorgeous, especially as lit by Jiyoun Chang. Huang Ruo's evocative music provides much pleasure and Jennifer Moeller's costumes are fine. Much credit is due Qian Yi for superb work as Chinese opera consultant. May Adrales direction is assured. While the play may not be a dramatic triumph, it is an aesthetic one. Running time: 70 minutes, no intermission.

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