By Marcina Zaccaria
Wartime drama in Incident at Hidden Temple, produced by Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, is as compelling as it gets.
As the landscape shifts from a village fable to a convincing military drama, Director Kaipo Schwab skillfully coordinates interrogation of a larger truth. Following Ava Chao through a 1943 wartime China, we discover how the difficulty of war impacts an 18 year old journalism student. The play, filled with memorable characters, is something of a winding path constructed by Playwright Damon Chua.
Gains of territory are as relevant as the power to see through blindness. Three central female characters Ava, Lucy (Briana Sakamoto), and Jing (Rosanne Ma) gain status in a war-torn environment. At General Cliff van Holt’s side, Jing is resolute, providing a pathway and necessary information for Ava’s journalism investigation.
Ava, portrayed adeptly by the Ying Ying Li, searches for meaning beyond the world of strategic maps and promises by fighters of the Hidden Tigers. It is her determination, as well as her sense of poise and punctuated speech, that we find so watchable, as she navigates past General Cliff Van Holt (portrayed with American bluster by Jonathan Miles), and eventually interviews Chiang Kai-Shek (played by Dinh James Doan).
After the encounter, Lucy is finally discovered by her sister, under a solid roof in a hut where the Blind Man lives. There is a tremendous release, when Ava re-connects with her lost sister. The skies open up, revealing a celestial palace in the sky. Leaning toward folk and the magical, it is effective. The power of myth is alive, as the characters search for greater meaning somewhere in the truth of war.
Design complements the story in this concise production. Costumes by Hanhji Jang include bomber jackets and colorful insignias. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, the legendary leader of the Nationalist Chinese Party, is a formidable presence on the stage. The spare set by Ian Wehrle, includes high grey walls that open up when lit perfectly by Pamela Kupper. Fight choreography by Michael G. Chin livens the stage, just as the heady drama exacerbates. Windows of light lead to a larger world, beyond the heavens.
As successful as 2015’s Film Chinois, Incident at Hidden Temple is followed by post-show discussion on January 31 and February 7. It’s courageous of Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, to produce a drama about the alliance between the US and China, set at the time when Chinese forces were splintered between Nationalists and the Communists. Under the direction of Tisa Chang, Pan Asian Repertory Theatre is celebrating its 40th anniversary season.
Incident at Hidden Temple is being performed at the Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row. The show will be running until February 12. www.PanAsianRep.org