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Sipping History in a Teahouse
A brilliant performance by Chinese artists provided an opportunity for foreigners living and working in Beijing, to sample an authentic touch of Chinese theater on Saturday night.

About 1,000 experts, diplomats and business people from 50 nations were invited to a performance of The Teahouse, a drama performed by a new generation of actors of the Beijing People's Art Theater.

Aptly dressed for the occasion in traditional Chinese-style garments, Tom Test, a geologist from the United States, and his wife Sandra, were among those thrilled by the play which vividly captures the atmosphere of Beijing in the first half of the 20th century.

"This very good play has helped me understand Chinese people at that time. The characters in the play are very believable as we can find these kind of people in any society," said Test.

He attributed the success of the play to the combination of its serious theme and humorous language, which mirrors the daily lives of ordinary people from the 1890s to 1940s, a time of profound change in China.

"I could understand the story line with the help of English subtitles, although I didn't catch every Chinese word," added his wife.

Written by famous Chinese writer Lao She, the drama is a microcosm of the changing times as witnessed from the angle of a teahouse called "Yutai." With its earthy and witty repartee it also proved a hit with many young people in the audience.

"It's great! I can feel the changes happening in China compared with the stage play," said Essie Russell, a young British girl who works for a foreign-funded company in the capital.

This is the 494th performance of the drama since its debut by a previous generation of actors in March 1958.

In September 1980, The Teahouse was invited to tour 15 cities in West Germany, France and Switzerland, where it was a phenomenal success. Local critics hailed the drama as "a miracle from the theatrical Art of the Orient."

The play was also performed in Japan's Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima in 1983.

(China Daily February 10, 2003)

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