Preview: A Dream like a Dream

A Dream Like A Dream makes its Shanghai debut

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.


Dream tells 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 nights).