It seemed like a good idea…at the time.
A play about a 100 year old Peking Duck restaurant, an award winning, long running, and frequently revived play about the ups and downs of this restaurant, its owners, the issues of inheritance, management, the human condition, Chinese culture, cuisine, etc.
Performed by the Beijing People’s Art Theatre, an award winning national theater company of China established in the 1950s.
And the production was to be in Washington, at the Kennedy Center, for only three performances.
So of course I rushed to get tickets, congratulating myself on finding a way to secure two tickets even before they went on sale publicly. I was sure that my wife Ellen would enjoy it and be impressed at my being au courant.
I probably should have suspected something was not exactly right when several months later I had to switch from the Sunday night performance to the Friday night one, as we were to leave town on Saturday,* and I had no trouble getting new tickets, just a week or so before the actual performance.
Nor did I suspect anything might be awry when we entered the theater and were surrounded by a Chinese audience. Of course there would be a largely Chinese audience.
When I saw two TV screens on either side of the stage, it finally dawned on me that language might be an issue. Perhaps there would be a simultaneous translation for the Chinese audience (by this time I was beginning to realize that we were among the very few non Chinese patrons in the theater).
Finally, I opened the program and read about the play, getting excited again about the evening.
And then I read, in very small type (how come there’s so much small type these days?), the following: “This production is performed in Chinese with English supertitles.”
Ellen was not amused when I mentioned that to her.
“You didn’t even check to see if it was in English?” she said with that tone that you know you’ve once again have been found wanting.
“Well,” I said, defensively, “there was nothing in any of the publicity that indicated it was in Mandarin.”
“Anyway, we can read the supertitles,” (why are they called ‘supertitles’?) “and just enjoy the ‘experience’.”
She did not seem convinced.
The curtain opened, and the play commenced. We were just back far enough that we had to squint to read those supertitles, and I knew the evening was going to be a long one. I have trouble at the movies when there are English subtitles, as I’m usually so busy trying to read them that I find it hard to concentrate on the film itself.
I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice it to say that it was impossible both to follow the supertitles and watch the action on stage. So I just watched the action. Hopeless. Then I just tried reading the supertitles, but I kept getting distracted by the action on the stage, plus I had to squint so much, I was exhausted after ten minutes.
Ellen was not a happy camper.
She ‘suggested’ we leave when there was a break between scenes. I, of course, would have stuck it out and just tried to ‘go with the flow’ on stage, but having been married to Ellen for 43 years, I knew when I needed to follow her ‘suggestion.’
We left, with Ellen giving me that look of ‘you really are an idiot.’ She did say, for the second time, “I can’t believe you didn’t even check.”
I blame my daughter who recently moved from New York City to Miami. If she hadn’t moved, I never would have had to be on my own in figuring out what plays to see.
(*I gave the Sunday tickets to a coworker of Ellen’s, a young Chinese techie who just happens to be our Chinese food guru in DC. He couldn’t go and so passed the tickets on to his brother, who, it turned out, couldn’t understand the play either, despite it being in his native tongue.)
Ok this kind of cracked me up!
Land Weyland said:
I live with this all the time. As the only person who speaks only English at the dinner table, I can watch the action of the conversation but understand little and if I try to figure out the words (with my very limited Chinese vocabulary), I fall behind the action and my comments are always ready about two minutes too late.
What was the Kennedy theatre thinking of using a screen on the side of the stage? Don’t they know that does not work. That is the reason subtitles were invented. And if the play was aimed at a Mandarin speaking audience, that should have been a prominent part of the advertising. If it is worth it, a complaint to the theatre might be in order as you were induced to pay to watch a show you could not possibly comprehend and were given no notice abot either the language problems or the really dumb translation problem.
To be fair, my guess is that the Kennedy Center was misled because the actors brought the screens and translation with them and set it up after arriving and there was no preview by the Center. They were proably as irate as you for being mislead. The show producers knew about the problems but did not want to spend the money to present proper subtitles
I would not want to be the person who booked this play into the Center.
Glen Willis said:
Ah Richard reading your wonderful narrative reminded me of a Wm. Shakespere tradgedy. So I offer some comments from the Bard that seem fitting for you and your lovely Consort:
William Shakespeare quotes / quotations from King Richard III
“Now is the winter of our discontent”. Richard III Quote (Act I, Scene I).
“A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!”. Quote (Act V, Scene IV).
“Conscience is but a word that cowards use, devised at first to keep the strong in awe”. Richard III Quote (Act V, Scene III).
“So wise so young, they say, do never live long”. Quote (Act III, Scene I).
“Off with his head!”Quote (Act III, Scene IV).
“An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told”. Richard III Quote (Act IV, Scene IV).
“The world is grown so bad, that wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch”. Quote (Act I, Scene III).
I think it was Henry the V that said something about a Band of Brothers so we surround you with support but don’t ask us to go to the show!