This year, Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra (CATS) decided to stage a comedy. Because there aren’t many Asian comedies that have been translated into English and because most Asian-American plays are dramas, CATS turned to Turandot. The story, written in 1762 by Carlo Gozzi, involves a beautiful, cruel princess who executes any suitor who can’t answer her three riddles. The plot came from Persia, but the setting is Peking.
The play’s seldom done. We know it mostly because Giacomo Puccini adapted the story in his famous opera Turandot—a work tinged with Orientalism, that rosy vision (or mirage) of the exotic East that fascinated European artists 90 years ago.
The CATS production is mostly Gozzi’s play, which is hilarious. The performance is replete with masked commedia dell’arte buffoons who juggle, clown around and fart. It’s timeless humor. John Deaderick directs these scenes as well as the show’s sound design, which incorporates recordings of Puccini’s music. Yukiko Ohse, as Turandot, even sings an aria (in Italian). Elsewhere in the mix are Chinese sounds: clanging gongs and chants.
Amber Jo Manuel, who directed the show as a whole, uses elements from both Western and Asian theater. I went with the flow, didn’t fret about the sometimes striking contrasts and quite enjoyed it.
Elly-winning set designer David Minkoff returns with huge scrolls of Chinese calligraphy and a row of talking (severed) heads. The costumes (by Lisa Burgett and Sovahn LeBlanc) are bountiful and bright. The 24-person cast is huge but short on experience. See this extravaganza for the concept more than for any single performance.