Li Bao-Chun and Tang Jui-Lan | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Li Bao-Chun and Tang Jui-Lan

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LI BAO-CHUN AND TANG JUI-LAN

The Monkey King is a Chinese mythological figure, a trickster whose exploits are chronicled in Journey to the West, a 17th-century picaresque epic that's considered a landmark in Chinese literature. Ostensibly the tale of a dutiful monk's pilgrimage to India, Journey freely mixes Buddhistic and Taoist elements in a sprawling narrative filled with supernatural occurrences and colorful ragamuffins who try to thwart the progress of the monk's entourage. The Monkey King, dispatched by the gods to protect the hapless monk, is the chief mischief maker, outwitting a series of menacing pagans. Among those he vanquishes is the Flower Woman, a guileful seductress, and their comical encounters provide crowd-pleasing scenes in the Beijing Opera version of the crafty monkey's adventures, The Monkey King. (Beijing Opera is a lot like Japanese Kabuki theater in that highly stylized stock gestures and movements convey emotions and motives.) Some of these scenes will be performed in full costume by Li Bao-chun (as the Monkey King) and Tang Jui-lan (Flower Woman) in a demonstration at the Art Institute of the art of Chinese opera, presented in conjunction with the once-in-a-lifetime touring exhibition of artifacts from the imperial collection in Taiwan's National Palace Museum. Li, who comes from a family of celebrated opera singers in China, specializes in "fighting hero" roles; Tang is a graduate of the National Fu Hsing Dramatic Arts Academy, a renowned opera training center in Taipei. They'll be accompanied by a small ensemble playing traditional Chinese instruments. In China the arias from The Monkey King are committed to memory by connoisseurs who often jostle to sing their favorites between toasts at a banquet, and with interpreters of Li's caliber, even American audiences are likely to understand its enduring appeal. A narration in English will be provided by Craig Quintero. Friday through Tuesday, 12:15 and 2 PM, Fullerton Auditorium, Art Institute, Michigan and Adams; 443-3680.

TED SHEN

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