Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America Presents “The Empresss Dowager”

By William Kustiono

From May 31 to June 23, 2013, Theater for the New City presents “The Empress Dowager”. The Empress Dowager, is a three-act performance examining 40 years of the reign of the Manchu empress who ruled China from behind the throne. The Manchu who became the rulers of the Middle Kingdom in 1644 were a nomadic people in today’s Northeast China. The tribesmen bartered skins, pearl, horses for silk, salt, and grain from the Han people, China’s majority people. The play recounts the journey of Manchu kingdom seeking a suitable place in the modern world. The play is written and directed by Joanna Chan, Artistic Director. There are 25 performers and the language is conducted in Mandarin Chinese with English Subtitle.

The Empress Dowager portrays the life of Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), who reigned, directly and indirectly, in the Manchu Dinasty. The Emperor Kang Xi (1654-1722) and Qian long (1736-1795) has brought stability to the land and also expanding the land to the regions of Manchuria, Mongolia, Xin Jiang, Tibet, and Taiwan. In here, we can see some of the Chinese history about China’s journey through the assimilation to the modern society. How the noble families are trying to cope with the new contemporary world is explained in the play.

The Empress Dowager touches the story of a fifteen-year-old girl from a noble Manchu family who rose to power and ruled behind the throne through this period, for over four decades in end of 18th century. This story provides an insight about the search of place in the modern society for the noble and self-sufficient people. This people have been struggling greatly with a goal that is to survive. The acts that started with the coup d’etat in the year 1861, the Empress Dowager ruled China from behind a screen. It ends with the 1898 coup d’etat and the rise of a sacred religious sect in the northern China that culminates the Boxer movement. This is where things are getting interesting because each acts represents the historical action that was taken in the end of 18th century. The Empress are trying to maintain the control of the region and blend to the modern society.

The Emperor Dowager casted by distinguished stars, one of them is a Malaysian stage and film star, Yenn Teoh, plays the Empress Dowager Cixi. Yenn Teoh has performed in several Malaysian TV series and films. One of her prominent films was shot and produced in California in 2000, “See You Out of Edge of Town”, which was exhibited in the 7th Shanghai International Film Festival. She was named Best Leading Actress in the 2004 Malaysian Best Stage Play Awards for a role in which she casted six distinct female characters.

For the Chinese History fan, this play is a must-see because it depicts the Chinese history from the beginning of the 18th century to the 19th century. It also tells the story bridging in between the end of Qing Dynasty and the rise of Republic of China. From this play the audience can enjoy the history of China and the magnificent portrayal of Empress Dowager Cixi by Yenn Teoh.

The production runs through June 23 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., in Manhattan’s East Village.

For more info: http://www.yangtze-rep-theatre.org/

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