"For all evils there are two remedies－time and silence," wrote French author Alexandre Dumas (pere) in his 19th century literary classic The Count of Monte Cristo.
It tells the story of Edmond Dantes, the first mate of the ship Pharaon, who is convicted of a crime he did not commit and imprisoned at Chateau d'If, but escapes with the help of a noble priest and succeeds in taking his long-planned revenge under the guise of the eponymous Count of Monte Cristo.
Marking the 150th anniversary of the death of Dumas, a play commissioned by the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing will premiere at the NCPA on Nov 10 and will run through Dec 18.
Directed by Wang Xiaoying and scripted by Yu Rongjun, this representative work of Dumas features renowned actor Yu Yang playing Edward Dantes (aka the Count of Monte Cristo), and actress Sun Li as Mercedes, fiancee of the young Dantes, a beautiful and kind woman. The stage is also shared with Wang Weiguo, Fu Pengxu and members of the NCPA Drama Ensemble.
It is not the first time director Wang Xiaoying has cooperated with the NCPA. In 2009, he directed the first NCPA drama production Jane Eyre, and then, in 2015, he took the helm of a production of the Chinese opera The Dawns Here are Quiet.
"The former president of the NCPA, Chen Ping, asked me if I would like to make another classic drama with the NCPA on the fifth anniversary of the production Jane Eyre, and I agreed. It was six years ago, in 2014," says Wang Xiaoying in Beijing. "As you can see, we have gone through a lot of difficulties to adapt The Count of Monte Cristo during the past six years.
"I want to use four words to summarize the drama: legend, romance, fantasy, reality. The novel itself is a legend. Romance refers to Dumas' way of writing. Our reorganized drama structure and the style of the set design are fantastic, while what we would like to show the audience is the reality of life," he says.
To stage the 19 century masterpiece, Wang Xiaoying and the creative team looked for ways to bring modernity to this adaptation of the classic novel. The yearning for kindness and justice, alongside hatred of crime and evil, in modern society can be conveyed to audiences. The modern way of portraying, deconstruction and reorganization of characters also gives the play new meaning.
During the past 20 years, playwright Yu has seen more than 60 of his productions staged by theaters around the world. However, despite rewriting script several times, Yu is tweaking it and looking to make it better. One thing that is unique about this adaptation is that Yu divides the protagonist into three different characters based on the three important facets of the life of the eponymous count. Two actors will help maximize the inner confrontation of Dantes and the tension of the plot, while set designer Liu Kedong uses the image of a box with a lot of symbolic figures of Marseille and Paris to signify the real and the spiritual worlds of Edward Dantes. Initially, the costumes reflect the French style of dress in the 19th century, but become more contemporary in the second act.
With Yu Rongjun's version, he hopes to build a new connection with the audience.
"The Count of Monte Cristo was the very first Western literature I read," says Yu. "From the story I feel not only the pleasure of defeating the dark side, but also love and hope, which in my opinion, is the real theme of our adaptation."
Yu Yang, who made his name in theater, as well as with major roles in movies and TV dramas, will deliver his interpretation of the Count of Monte Cristo and the young Dantes. He believes that in this story of revenge, what is most important is love.
"Count of Monte Cristo's revenge is actually the process of his self-redemption. He is completely entangled between love and hatred. But enmity is never the motivation to live. Only love and kindness are the true spirit of life, also of our play," says Yu Yang.
According to vice-president of the NCPA, Zhao Tiechun, The Count of Monte Cristo is the center's second new production since the outbreak of COVID-19 was curtailed. With more original productions coming out, the NCPA is adhering to its guiding principle－"for the people, for art and for the world"－in these challenging times.
"Until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words-'wait' and 'hope'," posits Dumas in The Count of Monte Cristo. It just happens to be one of Yu Rongjun's favorite lines.