‘Film Chinois’ at the Beckett Theatre – Review
Is it a floor wax or a dessert topping? Pan Asian Repertory Theatre’s Film Chinois, a play with elements of the film noir genre, does beg that question at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row. The play has many of the elements of the genre – shadowy scenes, silhouetted figures, a black-and-white-ish visual style, and of course, femmes fatales – but how well does this translate to the stage?
The setting? Beijing, or Peking as many still called it, in 1947. Here Mao’s communist revolutionaries are fighting the Nationalists for control. The city, as depicted in Film Chinois, is as exotic as post-war Vienna in The Third Man, with policemen, spies, secret missions, and people in search of transit visas to leave.
Everyone has a secret, from “tea trader” Randolph (Benjamin Jones) to the staunch Maoist Chinadoll (Roseanne Ma), not to mention a secret mission. Ma reinforces the play’s film noir’s aspirations as the narrator, although her early delivery is a bit too distant and wooden.
The convoluted plot revolves around the relationship between Randolph and Chinadoll and the Belgian Ambassador (Jean Brassard) and lounge singer Simone (Katie Lee Hill). The continual mentions of the “Twins” and a mysterious film add to the mystery.
There’s clichéd dialog – Chinadoll: “I don’t love you.” Randolph: “Good. I don’t love you too.” – followed by a kiss, of course.
Jones’ Randolph plays his Nebraskan spy in China role well and Brassard shines as the ambassador, but the real star would be the sets – the Pink Blossom Nightclub, a restaurant, a small bedroom, the corner of an interrogation room – softly illuminated and accented by lighted cigarettes.
(Photo: Accura Media Group)