Princeton Chinese Theatre’s production, “Rhinoceros in Love,” is a strong and powerful play that deals metaphorically with the themes of friendship, love and betrayal. Originally written by Liao Yimei in Mandarin in 1999, “Rhinoceros” has been regarded as a quintessential Chinese drama. PCT’s stellar adaptation, directed by Kecy Wu ’15 and Jianfei Chen, a lecturer in the East Asian Studies department, further examines the raw emotions of the human soul introduced in the original.
The play’s protagonist, Ma Lu, works as a rhinoceros feeder at a local zoo. He is a humble and unassuming character who nonetheless has idealistic dreams of true love. One day, he meets a young woman named Ming Ming, and he instantly falls in love with her. However, Ming Ming is already married, albeit unhappily, and her years of living with a cruel husband who does not return her affection have hardened her heart to Ma Lu’s gestures of true love. The play follows Ma Lu as he tries to win Ming Ming’s favor. This drama is as much a story about Ma Lu and Ming Ming as it is about the universal human experiences of angst, pride and zealous love.
Rising star Eddie Chen ’16 plays the role of Ma Lu with powerful emotion, and he executes his lines with aplomb. Some of the most memorable quotes from the play are delivered gracefully by Chen, such as his fervent declarations of love to Ming Ming, “You are my warm, cozy glove, my ice cold beer,” and “I will never leave you, nor will I let you leave me.” Chen’s unforgettable style in performing these lines conveys his deep and heartfelt emotion; he seems to address the audience directly, drawing it in to the unfolding story. Chen delivers the most powerful and moving part of the play during a soliloquy after Ma Lu was cruelly rejected by Ming Ming. Although Ma Lu’s friends have counseled him to forget her, he refuses to give up so quickly. As he ponders, “To forget her, or not to forget her,” the audience can hear the plaintive tone of his voice that fringes on desperation and can feel the tumultuous storm of his emotions. His love for her is so strong that he refuses to see her reject him, and he strives to greater and greater lengths to win her back to him. Through his interpretation of the role, Chen gives his character an air of separation; he is distinctly different from the other characters in the play, who are not as focused on achieving one outcome. Ma Lu seems always preoccupied with his problem of confronting the realities of love.
Jiawei Chen GS, who plays the cruel but not completely heartless Ming Ming, also performs her role quite admirably. Jiawei’s Ming Ming is at times unsympathetically cold, yet there are moments when the audience feels pity for her. To play this role well requires the ability to portray emotions ranging from rage to indifference to confusion to regret and everything in between, and Jiawei masterfully interprets her role to bring out this full spectrum. One example of Jiawei’s effective use of emotions in delivering her lines occurs when Ming Ming disdainfully rejects Ma Lu’s advances, haughtily exclaiming, “There is no more we. There is only I.” The bitterness Ming Ming must feel from years of underappreciation by her uncompassionate husband is palpable.
Other standout performances were made by Chong Gu ’16 as a ladies’ man, Cody Abbey ’14 as a toothbrush salesman and Xu Ling Hu ’16 as a teacher of social graces. Scenes with these three characters provide some comic relief against the increasingly somber mood of the play.
Through the convincing delivery of the dialogue, the play succeeds in drawing the audience into its engaging and serious atmosphere. The directors have astutely minimized potentially distracting props to emphasize the extremely complex emotions and interactions between characters. The simple set, combined with the small stage in the Class of 1970 Theatre in Whitman College, magnifies the play’s emotions. The props that are used consequently gain much more significance; one recurring item is a wallet that Ming Ming gives to Ma Lu, but later takes back when she starts to doubt her commitment to him. The lack of other props focuses the audience’s attention on determining whether this basic object is only a meaningless gift or whether it is truly a token of love.
The themes of “Rhinoceros in Love” are conveyed through the dynamic feelings of its characters, and the cast members play their roles with gusto. In the end, through the depth of its emotions, this play succeeds in reaching its audience on a symbolic level. Despite the ambiguous status of Ma Lu and Ming Ming’s relationship, one thing is certain: Love, like the rhinoceroses for which Ma Lu cares so deeply, truly is blind in not just a physical sense, but in certain cases an emotional sense as well.
4.5 out of 5 paws
Pros: Impressively delivered lines; strong use of emotions.
Cons: Some scenes come off as slightly unpolished.