For expats, one thing that Shanghai may be lacking is low-priced
Broadway-quality plays performed by native English professional
Now, however, East West Theater is set to open its second show
accommodating this gap in the market, whilst doing its bit for
The Dining Room which was first shown in New York in
1982 and earned author A.R. Gurney a Pulitzer Prize nomination
opens locally today and promises its audience a humorous and
In collaboration with the LPE International Networking Society,
the show will be part of an educational program aimed at helping
Chinese students learn English by providing examples and situations
close to real life.
Set in the one room of the house that was once the hub of
American family life, the dining room, it is scripted as a series
of overlapping vignettes.
"The play has six actors - three men, three women - yet they
play 46 different parts in 16 different situations all in the same
setting and spanning a time period of 100 years," says Jonathan
Geenen, East West Theater's artistic director. "If you look at the
base of the play, it was written in the 1980s and it's making a
statement that people don't sit around the table and eat and talk
Geenen, a young Canadian director based in Shanghai, describes
the play as a two-hour journey that gently chips away at ideas of
social customs and self-actualization.
"Whenever you have a chance to explore themes like these in a
play, there are always a lot of surprises in the box for an
audience as well as profound moments of discovery for the actors,"
Accompanying The Dining Room is Flushed with
Wine, a short 10-minute show entirely performed by two Chinese
actors in their native tongue.
"It is a Chinese play about relationships. The Dining
Room is such a bull, the sucker starts and it just flies.
Everyone who acts in it speaks English as it is an educational
program and people want to hear how this is spoken. However, the
theme of 'Flushed with Wine' is similar; it takes place around
where people would eat, however it is entirely in Chinese," Geenen
Although the complimenting performances demonstrate the idea of
cultural exchange, Geenen continues: "When I hear this term I want
to puke. To me it does not exist, we are all part of the same
passion and we exchange ideas not culture."
Originally from Sault St Marie in Canada, Geenen's working life
has been in the performance industry. After graduating from the
George Brown Theater School in Toronto, the 27-year-old expat has
appeared in some of Canada's major theaters and has graced the
stage as Ferdinand in the Tempest and Claudio in Much
Ado About Nothing.
"I originally pursued acting and then directing because of
Richard Howard, a famous director in Canada. I worked with him for
more than 20 productions and so at least 99 percent of my
inspiration has come from him, from the process, method,
everything. Richard was once a great actor and I asked him why he
did not do it anymore. He answered, 'because I can say more by
directing.' After directing my fifth play I realized what he meant.
If you are directing you in effect play all the roles in the
Geenen moved to Shanghai in 2005. "I was living in Japan
previously when I was asked me to do a pilot TV show here, Life
Changes. I spent a while splitting my time between the two
places but then decided to settle in Shanghai. People working in
the arts are the same everywhere, all have similar kinds of
personalities, and drive but when I came here I felt a connection,
got caught up in the energy and saw the possibilities this city can
offer," he says.
Explaining why he chose The Dining Room as East West
Theater's second major performance, he explains: "It is an
actor-based play and I have a thing for the classics. I am not out
to wow, I have nothing to prove but I just want to be involved and
am fueled by passion and hopefully this will be infectious.
"Our performance is absolutely fantastic, well acted and
compares with Broadway on New York except it is in a different
location. It is intimate, engaging, thought provoking and you can
not find this type of entertainment anywhere else here," Geenen
(Shanghai Daily June 21, 2007)