His Bach Variations (1985) set
monologues against a baroque fugue, That Evening We Performed Xiangsheng (1985)
helped catapult a dying art form into the modern era, and the globally famous Secret
Love in Peach Blossom Land (1986) weaves comedy and tragedy to glorious,
unforgettable effect. But even for the man considered the most creative and
visionary writer/director in Chinese language theatre, most agree that A
Dream like a Dream (2000) is Stan Lai’s magnum opus. This month, Dream makes
its Shanghai debut.
Born in the US and raised in Taiwan, Lai
(pictured below) returned Stateside to earn his PhD in theatre at UC Berkeley.
A devout Buddhist, Lai was visiting India’s Bodh Gaya, the rumoured site of
Gautama Buddha’s enlightenment; sitting under a Bodhi tree, he reflected on the
visitors’ panoramic diversity and decided to stage a play where the actors
surround the audience and the story changes hands.
of a young, idealistic doctor who loses four out of five patients on her first
day. Shattered, she eventually realises that life and death is beyond earthly
control, but she can at least comfort the almost-departed. Patient number five
weaves an intricate tale of train wrecks, mysterious loves, a lakeside château
and an aspiring artist, all of whom wander freely between dreams and reality.
Even given Lai’s runaway Mainland
popularity, Dream is a bold call for any producer, requiring a massive
cast and four stages. Worse, ticket sales have to be limited, and an
eight-hour, two-day performance is daunting for viewers and management alike.
Still, reviews have been stratospheric, with audiences and critics transfixed.
Stan Lai doesn’t know how to fail.
A Dream like a Dream is at SHOAC from Monday 10 to Sunday 23 June (performance over two