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Published: 10:58, October 14, 2021 | Updated: 10:59, October 14, 2021
Changing stages
By Chen Nan
Published:10:58, October 14, 2021 Updated:10:59, October 14, 2021 By Chen Nan

The US classic play, Desire Under the Elms, is adapted into a Chinese production by Beijing People's Art Theater and being staged through Sunday. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Desire Under the Elms, a three-part tragedy written by US playwright Eugene O'Neill, has been adapted into a Chinese play with the same title and staged by Beijing People's Art Theater to celebrate the launch of its new venue.

The stage set, costumes, cast members and theater — everything new is making this play a fresh experience for the audience.

Ren Ming, director, speaking of the latest Chinese adaptation of Desire Under the Elms

The play debuted in late September and will run until Sunday. It features two groups of performers.

The new venue is located next to Capital Theater, which was established in 1954 as the home of Beijing People's Art Theater company. It is one of the two venues of the Beijing International Theater Center, a 23,000-square-meter project launched by Beijing People's Art Theater.

According to Ren Ming, president of Beijing People's Art Theater, one of the reasons for adapting Desire Under the Elms is to pay tribute to Cao Yu (1910-96), the Chinese playwright who was the first president of Beijing People's Art Theater.

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The US classic play, Desire Under the Elms, is adapted into a Chinese production by Beijing People's Art Theater and being staged through Sunday. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

"Eugene O'Neill was one of Cao Yu's favorite writers. Cao Yu's classic work, The Wilderness, reflects the influence of O'Neill on him," says Ren, adding that another new venue inside the Beijing International Theater Center, which has a capacity of 700 seats, is named after Cao Yu.

He also notes that the core mission of Beijing People's Art Theater is keeping alive the tradition of the pioneers of Chinese dramatists, like Cao Yu, by restaging classic Chinese plays.

It's also important for the theater to open up to classic plays of the world, which offers a platform for international cultural exchange, he adds.

In 2007, the theater company had also adapted Desire Under the Elms into Chinese. Ren was the director of that version of the play.

The US classic play, Desire Under the Elms, is adapted into a Chinese production by Beijing People's Art Theater and being staged through Sunday. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Fourteen years later, Ren, along with Cong Lin, is co-directing the new version.

Published in the 1920s and considered a 20th-century classic US drama, Desire Under the Elms draws from Greek tragedy.

It tells the story of Ephraim Cabot, an old landowner who is engaged in a battle with his youngest son, Eben Cabot, for control of the family farm.

Eben Cabot despises the fact that his father stole the family's farm from his mother. When the father returns after disappearing for several weeks along with his newlywed wife, Abbie, Eben Cabot finds himself in love with the bride. Abbie's own greed and sexual attraction to Eben Cabot also lead to consequences.

"When I read the work, I gained a fresh perspective about the story and each character, compared to 14 years ago when I directed the play. The story puts an emphasis on the lustful nature of the characters and is compelling and intense," says Ren.

"The stage set, costumes, cast members and theater-everything new is making this play a fresh experience for the audience."

The US classic play, Desire Under the Elms, is adapted into a Chinese production by Beijing People's Art Theater and being staged through Sunday. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Actress Yu Mingjia plays the role of Abbie, a "seductive controller" and "a desperate lover", as Yu describes her.

"Her love is overwhelming and she does everything to keep that kind of love, which makes her a sad story," says Yu.

According to Ren, Beijing People's Art Theater has a long tradition of training its own actors and actresses.

During recent years, it has been inviting actors and actresses who don't work with the theater to join the theater's plays, hoping to bring a sense of freshness to the audience.

Actor Zheng Yunlong plays the role of Eben Cabot in this play. Known for his roles in musicals, the 30-year-old has been doing rehearsals at Beijing People's Art Theater over the past two months.

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The US classic play, Desire Under the Elms, is adapted into a Chinese production by Beijing People's Art Theater and being staged through Sunday. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

"It's an honor to join a play by Beijing People's Art Theater, which is considered the flag bearer of Chinese drama and is known for its good traditions and work ethic," says Zheng.

"I read Desire Under the Elms when I was a student of the Beijing Dance Academy and I loved it."

Zheng describes the role of Eben Cabot as a young man "haunted by his dead mother's ghost, resenting his father and struggling with his love".

"I tried to bring out Eben's fragility and violence-both caused by his family tragedy and the lack of love-through my acting," he says.

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