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New York play focuses on foreign love and green cards

Updated: 2013-05-10 15:49
By Caroline Berg in New York ( China Daily)

Although Zhao Binghao is still a student, his recent play Kurukulla at the Pershing Square Signature Center's Studio Theater in Manhattan was sold out.

Kurukulla is named after the Tibetan goddess of love, and the story explores the tangled webs that can be formed by love, particularly when a green card is thrown into the mix.

A unique feature in the Columbia University student's 90-minute play is having a cinematographer filming the action onstage.

"This is definitely a new experience," says cinematographer Mu Ge. "The camera is a part of the performance."

The method used in filming the play, to be simultaneously broadcast on a large screen, is a style only its director, Wang Chong, is familiar with.

As artistic director of the Beijing-based Theatre du Reve Experimental, Wang draws inspiration from the avant-garde.

"You compromise a bit of your blocking for a close-up for the camera," Wang says about choreographing the actors onstage. "But the close-up will provide you a lot of things for the audience. We choose to focus on the dramatic moment."

Zhao says he wrote the script as if it were a screenplay and feels this unconventional staging is suitable for the performance.

"His plays are always very intimate," actress Lin Weiyi says. "It feels like you're watching a film, but it's a staged play."

Kurukulla was part of the New Plays Now annual festival for emerging artists from the Theatre MFA program at Columbia University's School of the Arts. Its three performances ran from May 3 to 5.

"I wrote this play for (Lin), actually," Zhao says about his lead actress. The two Chinese natives met at Columbia.

"We have shared similar situations in the past year," the playwright says. "We're both foreigners, we were both international students, we're both trying to stay here, we both came here to explore the artistic world in the US and we're trying to stay, so we need the visa or even a green card."

The play begins with a man who spots a woman looking bored at a funeral and approaches her. They talk, they flirt, and then the audience is transported 10 years back in time. Eventually, it is revealed that the couple has a history.

The woman married this American man's gay best friend for a green card. Humiliation eventually led to their divorce and the woman fled back to China and married a Chinese banker. The funeral was her ex-husband's.

During the writing of the play, Zhao and his mentor, David Henry Hwang, a Tony Award-winner and Chinese-American, discussed immigrants' lives in the United States, as well as their lives in China, and reasons for living in one place versus another.

"I'm in the process of applying for a new visa," Lin says. "Everyone is thinking about (marrying for a green card), but will you really do it? That is another question."

Although Kurukulla is based on Zhao's personal experience, the 24-year-old hasn't been married.

"Sometimes you feel it's very insulting when people bring up the idea that you can marry someone to get a green card," Zhao says.

Zhao has studied in New York at Columbia for three years and plans to graduate with an MFA in playwriting in May.

Zhao is seeking financial support to take Kurukulla on tour in China this fall.

He hopes to obtain a US artist's visa and continue writing stories, whether as a play, film or novel.

"My favorite stories?" Zhao ponders the question. "I have bad taste. I like crude things, like comedy and dark comedy and all kinds of dark stuff."

New York play focuses on foreign love and green cards

New York play focuses on foreign love and green cards

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