When you write badly about passion, you get pulp; with politics, you grind out sawdust. Maybe that's why The Life and Times of Ng Chung-Yin (Theater for the New City) is so utterly devoid of juice when the Hong Kong radical's life seemed to burst with drama.
This theater piece, imported from Hong Kong and playing alternately in English and Cantonese, was created by the Asian People's Theatre Festival Society, a company directed by Ng's fellow activist Mok Chiu-Yu. Mok, who plays himself in the Cantonese version (and is played in English by American actor Lawrence Wong), recounts the high points of Ng's life--how Ng led a radical youth movement in the early '70s, ran an influential political mag, and endured imprisonment, disgrace, and, finally, the editorship of Hong Kong Playboy.
The script seems to be an argument to those who already know the players. Neither Mok nor Ng comes alive as a character. Wong at best woodenly recites his lines, at worst soap-operatically declaims Mok's recollections while three dancers mime the narration with stylized movements set to music. The writing is pedantry veering into bathos. Mok's sincerity is obvious, but so is everything else in this earnest, doleful effort. The black-clad mimes occasionally present striking images: they first appear tied together and writhing in ropes. They also nudge smiles when one spoons out stew while wearing Playboy Bunny ears. For some reason, vegetables take a starring role. In one scene symbolizing a youth demonstration, a sinister figure in whiteface attacks a carpet of tomatoes with a stick. He misses his targets. Just like this whole misbegotten enterprise.