Wild Man


Wild Man
[Yeren, 1985]
Huaju (spoken drama)
Wild Man, written by Gao Xingjian, was directed by Lin Zhaohua and premiered by the Beijing People’s Art Theatre in 1985. Although it first received mixed responses from both critics and audiences, Wild Man remains arguably one of the Nobel laureate’s most important works. In Wild Man, Gao departed from his own experiments with Western modernist theatre as seen in The Alarm Signal (Juedui xinhao, 1982) or Bus Stop (Chezhan, 1983), and attempted to realize his ideal of establishing a new modern theatre that draws on traditional Chinese opera and involves song, speech, acting and acrobatics. As Gao declared in the play’s ‘Postscript’, these non-verbal techniques compose a ‘dramatic symphony’ that consists of several themes to create a structure of multi-vocality and realize a total theatrical effect. Contrary to Aristotelian theatre with its beginning, middle and end, Wild Man consists of a series of diverse episodes without an obvious storyline. Set in the vanishing forest of contemporary Sichuan province, the play depicts an ecologist who is looking for a wild man yet is frustrated by the loggers and local officials who make their living by destroying the forest and environment. A schoolteacher devotes his time to rescuing a Han epic from a dying epic singer. A devoted girl from the local village falls hopelessly in love with the ecologist, who is trapped in an unhappy marriage.
Although the play attempts to integrate these realistic concerns with the issues of love, marriage, ethics, custom, tradition, corruption and environmental protection in contemporary China, Gao made it clear that his play should remind his audiences that it is a play, not real life, demonstrating the influence of the Brechtian ‘alienation effect’, which is to break down the conventional notion of theatre as a representation of real life. Gao achieved this end by asking the ecologist several times in the play to take off his mask to assume his identity as an actor and asking him also to play the role of stage director at the same time. Wild Man can thus be seen as one of the most innovative dramas in contemporary China which freely combines the theatrical traditions of East and West.
Chen, Xiaomei (1995). ‘A Wildman between the Orient and the Occident: Retro-Influence in Comparative Literary Studies’. In idem, Occidentalism: A Theory of Counter-Discourse in Post-Mao China. New York: Oxford University Press, 99–118.
Gao, Xingjian (1990). Wild Man. Trans. Bruno Boubicek. Asian Theatre Journal 7.2:195–249.
CHEN XIAOMEI

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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