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Fools for love

The trials and tribulations of Bardot and Irma in Godot Theater Company's romantic folly 'Irma La Douce'

Fools for love
Godot Theater Company presents "Irma La Douce."

Godot Theater Company presents "Irma La Douce."

James Chi-ming Liang (梁志民) says that when people free their hearts, their life is enriched by love. This winter, he wants theatergoers to feel warmth of love in a play with witty and sassy dialogue; a story that dazzles your eyes with beautifully choreographed dances and charming sets that invite you to experience what it feels like when Cupid aims his arrows and turn ordinary beings into extraordinary fools for love.
Liang directs Godot Theater Company's (果陀劇場) first production in 2007 "Irma La Douce (巴黎花街)," a three-hour long romantic comedy that kept the audience laughing in their seats when it premiered last weekend. It is a story about an upright policemen Bardot, played by Tang Tsung-sheng (唐從聖), who falls in love with Irma, the most popular street girl in Paris' Montmarte district, played by the actress Yen Fang-hsin (顏嘉樂).
Bardot becomes Irma's pimp after he lost his job as a policeman, but cannot bear for his beloved to be touched by other men. His protectiveness and jealousy propels him to create the mysterious benefactor Duke X, who generously provides Irma 500 pounds per week so that Irma does not have to "work that hard." Despite his initial good intentions, Bardot begins to get jealous of Duke X as Irma begins to fall for the alter ego, and as he begins planning on how to get rid of duke persona, he comes up with a brilliant plan - murder Duke X.
The drama is an adaptation from the movie "Irma La Douce," one of the box-office hits made by esteemed Austrian director Billy Wilder.
"When I first saw the movie by Wilder, I was deeply moved by its story," said Liang, who spent three months mapping out how to present "Irma La Douce," and another three months for rehearsal.
He said the whole stage setting was inspired by 1960s Paris. "The reason why I did not change the location to Taipei is because I wanted to present 'the distance of beauty,'" he explained. "If the location were switched to Taipei, then the beauty of the drama would change."
"I am a hopeless romanticist", Liang told Taiwan News, "I believe love is built on trust, mutual trust; and faith, the major theme of the drama, pulls every couple together.
"Some of the plots may seem crazy and far from reality, but it brings out the fact that when people are in love, jealousy usually prompts us to do something crazy," he said. But this time, jealousy is not a destructive power - just a source of laughs.
Asked what the major challenge was in directing the drama, Liang pondered for a moment and said "nothing," with a confident smile. He said that the three lead performers were so great that the only thing he worried about was which scenes to cut to keep the play under three hours.
Tang Tsung-sheng, an entertainer who gained popularity by mimicking prominent political figures in showbiz programs, took on the challenge of playing the double roles of Bardot and Duke X in the drama by using different tones and body movements for each character.
"He is a very hard-working actor," Liang said of the actor.
A fight scene in the drama won the actor a loud applause. Tang later told reporters that he is a big fan of Jackie Chan, and that he had actually rehearsed seven different versions of the fight scene.
Tang recalled that it was difficult to get into a romantic mood with the lead actress. "Yen and I are old friends, we could not help but burst into laughter when we have to act like a loving couple," Tang said. "It is a drama full of fantasy; the plot may seem absurd but the logic ties together the whole play together," he added.
Yen who has been a regular actress in Godot Theatre productions, told reporters she watched Wider's "Irma La Douce" eight times to get a better grasp the character. "The movie has many close-ups of Irma, but since I'm doing a play, the audience may not be able to see my facial expressions so clearly, so I have to convey much more through my voice and movements," she said.
The role of Irma in the drama actually reversed the traditional thought that a woman needs a man's protection and financial support. Irma is an independent woman who is willing to work extra hard as prostitute to give her man a good life. The shift in the balance of power between male and female is often amusing, especially when Irma tells Bardot that "you are my man, I cannot have you work outside," and insisted she has to be the breadwinner.
In reality, Yen said that she could not accept the idea of a woman bringing home the bacon for a man. "I hate gigolos the most," she said. However, she does agree with other things that happen in the play. "I do believe it is one of the happiest things if one falls in love with the same person more than once," Yen added.
As in most love stories, sage/confidant in "Irma," it's and Moustache, played by King Shih-chieh (金士傑), who sometimes acts more like a meddler than an advisor.
"My role in the drama is like a story-teller who observes things calmly and pretends not affected by the emotions of Bardot and Irma," King told Taiwan News.
King, one of the finest ensemble actors and directors in Taiwan theatre arena, is the actor who holds the play together, despite not having many lines in the early acts of the play. Without even trying, every time King shows up on stage, he instantly becomes the center of attention.
In the second half of the play, King turns himself from a sympathetic bar owner who consoles Bardot with paradoxical advices such as "Money flows, so don't worry about Irma providing for you," to someone who single-handedly solves Bardot's dilemma.
King said he was fascinated by Wilder's "Irma La Douce" when he first saw it in elementary school. "It is such a good play. It thoroughly represents French romanticism," he said.
Asked what he thought about the love between Bardot and Irma, the actor says, "It is very much like a little boy who falls in love with a little girl; they fall in love with the other's childlike personality," said King.
"Irma La Douce" is a comedy full of human interests, "with issues such as 'the possession of love' and 'dual personalities,'" King said. "What lies underneath the romantic love is this twisted but empathetic emotion," he added.
Another distinguishing feature of the drama is the dance number presented by seven street girls. The female chorus line, at times hilariously sarcastic towards the lovebirds, distracts viewers from drowning on too much "love," and keeps the audience laughing.
"Irma La Douce" will be staged at National Theater until January 28. Fans of Godot Theatre in central and southern Taiwan can watch the drama from February 3 to March 25. More information is available at http://www.godot.org.tw/.


Updated : 2021-05-17 17:08 GMT+08:00