Monday, June 27, 2011

A Look Inside the Minister’s Cabinet

By Joanna C. Lee, Chinglish Cultural Advisor

Chinglish officially opens tonight in the Albert. If you haven’t secured your tickets yet, buy them soon! This is not a show to be missed. Meanwhile, today’s post, from Chinglish Cultural Advisor Joanna C. Lee, concludes our series on the extensive research that went into the development of this new play with a look at the extraordinary attention to detail displayed on stage.

The wealth of Chinese visual details piled on the set of Chinglish did not go unnoticed at last week’s post-show talk back discussions. Several audience members—including one woman from Guiyang, the town where the play is set—have commented on everything from the accuracy of the restaurant settings to the quality of the hotel and apartment furnishings.

Shopping for Chinglish props has logged hundreds of thousands of air miles, from Guizhou Province to Chicago’s Chinatown, with many auspicious detours along the way. Every corner of every setting is based on recreating the extensive location photography taken by director Leigh Silverman during our trip to China last year.

Rather than trying to give a wide-ranging overview, let’s just look at one typical corner: the living room cabinet of Cai Guoliang, Minister of Culture for Guiyang City, an old-school Communist Party official who happens to be well-versed in the Chinese traditional arts. Here’s a brief look inside the Minister’s cabinet (a piece of lacquered bamboo purchased from a Chicago importer, shown below) with a brief note about the source of the contents.

1. Black lacquer mini-screen featuring photographs of four contemporary Chinese opera stars (a gift item from the Beijing-based China Northern Kunqu Opera Theater).

2. Collectable Yixing teapots, made from red clay (purchased in Chicago’s Chinatown).

3. Chinese dolls representing the traditional attire of ethnic minorities in Guizhou Province (sourced and flown into Chicago from Guiyang by the Western China Cultural Ecology Research Workshop; shown above).

4. Books worthy of a cultured official (above). The shelves now contain complete volumes of Confucius’s Analects, Laozi’s Book of Tao, works by Mencius and Mozi, a Song Dynasty treatise entitled On Being an Official, literary studies of Tang- and Song-Dynasty poetry, illustrated books on traditional porcelains and ancient coins and urns, and the two-volume Seventy-Year History of the Chinese Communist Revolution (all purchased at a bookstore in Chicago’s Chinatown).

5. Behind the doors is a selection of Chinese and Western liquor, including (empty) bottles of Johnny Walker Red Label, lychee liqueur and Shaoxing wine, a traditional beverage fermented from rice.

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