Theater

Vegging Out

by

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.

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