The first bilingual production of an iconic Chinese play to be staged in Cambridge this weekend
The Yale Vermilion Theater will present “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land” at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge on August 26 and 27.
Founded in 2021, the theater is the only Chinese-English bilingual art organization at Yale University. It focuses on encouraging cross-cultural conversations through theatrical productions.
With support from Taiwanese playwright Stan Lai (賴聲川), who wrote and directed the original version of the play in Mandarin, the theater staged the first bilingual production of “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land.”
Wisteria Deng, Yale Vermilion founder, said she hopes the show can help facilitate conversations between cultures and build a bridge between performing arts across language mediums.
“Art is something universal,” said Deng, a Ph.D. candidate in Clinical Psychology at Yale University. “It speaks to shared human emotions—the sense of loneliness, the sense of nostalgia, the experience you have when saying goodbye to someone that you love.”
First performed in 1986, “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land” (暗戀桃花源) is widely considered as an iconic stage play in contemporary Chinese theater. It tells the story of two theater production groups arranged to have their rehearsals at the same time by mistake.
One of these productions is “Secret Love”—an early-modern tragedy about lovers separated by the Chinese Civil War reunited after more than 50 years apart.
The other production is “Peach Blossom Land”—a romance comedy adapted from a Chinese poem written in A.D. 421 by Tao Yuanming, about a man who magically travels to a utopia to search for his wife.
With time, emotions and stories intertwined, “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land” offers a unique sentiment of mixed sorrow and delight.
Allen Jin, co-founder and associate director at the Yale Vermilion Theater, said he enjoys Chinese theater because of his identity. Born in China, he considers Chinese culture an important part of himself.
“I came to the United States about a decade ago,” Jin said. “Whenever I go on stage, whenever I direct a play, whenever I am part of the team, I just feel like I’m going back to visit that part of me.”
Aaron Chen, board member and co-producer, said the bilingual production of “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land” is not just for Chinese-speaking communities, but for everyone.
The team made substantial localization of the story to make it easier for people to understand the play. It also went through multiple rounds of revisions to ensure clarity and accuracy of the English translations, according to Chen.
In addition to bridging cultures and languages, the production also aims to break boundaries of sexuality.
“I’m performing on stage and I will be playing a male character, although I am a female,” said Deng, who plays Jiang Binliu in the show. “Yes, our main goal is to bridge the language gap, but we try to go beyond that and challenge more labels.”
The theater’s production of “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land” premiered in New Haven in April, and has since been invited to go on tours in New York City and in Boston.
All past shows were sold out, and the production has reached members of the Chinese diaspora communities as well as Americans from the greater New Haven and New York City areas.
After each show, the production team gets together and comes up with “crazy ideas” to try out in later performances, according to Deng. She finds the most exciting element of the Boston tour to be the black box theater.
“Previously, we’ve been performing the show in traditional theaters, so the stage is far from the audience,” Deng said. “It’s different with Central Square Theater, because we are pretty much on the same level as the audience members, and we will be able to perform part of the play from the audience’s side.”
She added, “Basically, we’re creating a new type of tension by just utilizing every part of the space.”
Learn more about the Yale Vermilion Theater here.
Tickets for perforances of “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land,” at the Central Square Theater (450 Mass Avenue, Cambridge) can be purchased here.
Artemis is a Taiwanese writer, activist, and entrepreneur. At the age of 16, she founded Taiwan’s largest student-based independent international news organization. She graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree from Peking University and is now a journalism graduate student at Boston University. She hopes to achieve social justice with the power of communication.