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Pulitzer-nominated Play to Stage in Shanghai
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For expats, one thing that Shanghai may be lacking is low-priced Broadway-quality plays performed by native English professional actors.

Now, however, East West Theater is set to open its second show accommodating this gap in the market, whilst doing its bit for cultural exchange.

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 compassionate performance.

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 any more."

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," he says.

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 explains.

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 script."

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 concludes.

(Shanghai Daily June 21, 2007)

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