by Bach Lien
Twenty years ago, when Nguyen Quang Lap's play Mua Ha Cay Dang (Bitter Summer) was performed for the first time, it immediately achieved critical acclaim and popular recognition.
|Betrayal: Kim Oanh and Tung Linh star in the play Mua Ha Cay Dang (Bitter Summer). — File Photo
When it was recently staged again by the Youth Theatre as part of the National Professional Stage Festival in Hue, the play touched hearts all over again.
The theme of the play is time-tested, tracking the unlucky destinies of people during wartime. But the creativity of the author, and of director Anh Tu and his actors in this new production, have made the play unforgettable.
There are only four characters in the play. They meet in Cat Village in Quang Binh Province in the summer of 1972, one of the regions of the country most heavily ravaged by American bombing attacks. Passively or actively, they begin to reveal their past misdeeds.
Played by Kim Oanh, Thuy Linh is a beautiful and headstrong woman who lives and loves with all her passion. She has loved Hoang (Tung Linh) since she was a little girl, but the war separates them when Hoang joins the army in 1969. Unable to remain faithful to him, she is seduced by Tran Hoi (Quang Anh), a false man who only seeks to advance his career. From this relationship, however, she gives birth to a daughter. Realising her error, she runs away, arriving in Cat Village where she meets a blind man (Duy Anh), who becomes like her adopted father. She and her daughter remain in the village, the inhabitants of which have the duty to protect 50 barrels of oil cached here by the army. Then Hoang arrives in the village to look for Linh.
Lap's plays are considered difficult to adapt because he often reveals details that people want to deny. As all of the characters reveal more about their past bad behaviour, the message of the play becomes clear: nobody's perfect and everyone makes mistakes. A single person can be both courageous and cowardly.
In putting together this new production, director Anh Tu made some changes to the play. In the original, only Tran Hoi faced criticism in the end. But in this new version, all of the characters are forced to pay for their acts of cowardice or weakness. The new ending is much more bitter than the original, giving Thuy Linh a truly bitter summer as befits the name of the play.
The success of the play is mainly due to the talents of actress Kim Oanh in the central role. She expresses a wide range of emotions. In one 10-minute span of the play, she transforms from a passionate girl thirsting for love, to a woman in pain who lies to everyone in order to escape her past. In a sweet and clear voice, she also sings some verses, touching audiences.
The stage decor for this production represents the settings simply: a thatched cottage by the beach, deserted sand banks with tombs. Sometimes, the typical chants and songs of the central province of Quang Binh resound. Some audiences have complained that the dialogue and looks of the characters are too modern and not true to wartime 30 years ago, but the production works on the emotions and is a success.
The National Professional Stage Festival in Hue continues until Saturday. — VNS