Joshua Alston / The Daily Orange / College Publisher Network
A fairy tale, much like a joke, only has as much humor, inventiveness and insight as its teller gives it.
Thankfully, Kuang-Yu Fong and Chinese Theatre Works, her cast and accompanying musicians injected all three into their Peking opera interpretation of the familiar children's fable "Little Red Riding Hood."
The show, the last performance in this year's Syracuse Symposium series, played to a packed house in Grant Auditorium. Fong, who directed and adapted the show, played the titular character and gave an introduction in which she explained the origin of the multi-cultural adaptation.
"Our art is sometimes hard for Americans, too distant and difficult to understand," said Fong, who formally studied the discipline of Chinese opera in Peking. The goal, she said, was to use a recognizable story and filter it through the bright colors, whirling dance and dramatic pantomime of the traditional Chinese stage.
Not only was the audience going to witness a Chinese opera, Fong said, they were going to act accordingly.
"We will ask you to behave like a Chinese audience," Fong said. "The audience must applaud when actors appear on stage for the first time."
While she explained that this custom welcomes the actors on stage and makes them feel appreciated, a little bit goes a long way.
"After (the first time) you must be quiet, otherwise it will become annoying," Fong said.
This performance marked the first time that the show has been performed with a live orchestra instead of a CD. The seven-member orchestra started with a lively overture, led by their conductor, Baogang Liu - who doesn't rely on sheet music - playing percussion and directing the musicians from memory alone.
Fong then presented herself, clad in a vibrant, meticulously embroidered yellow and red costume. Fong's costume, like all the rest in the show, was hand-sewn. The only element that matched the detail of the costumes was the makeup, which on most characters consisted of a white base and rounded red shapes to accentuate facial features.
The stage meanwhile, was decidedly minimal, containing only a small table and chair draped in matching embroidered silk. Any other props, Fong said, would be the invention of the performers and the audience.
The story started down its familiar path, with Fong's Little Red pleading with her mother (Fanying Meng) for permission to go alone to visit her grandmother. After finally wearing her mother down, Little Red dances and feeds the chickens on their farm as her mother puts the finishing touches on her red cape.
Little Red proceeds through the woods, unaware of the cunning enemy that awaits her. The Wolf, hilariously played by Yibing Fan, introduces himself without a trace of modesty.
"I am the most sophisticated, talented, cunning wolf you have ever seen," Fan told the howling audience.
"Last night," Fan continued, "I ate three fat little pigs who didn't know how to build their houses."
Meanwhile, the Hunter (Yucheng Ren) pursues the Wolf in spite of his crippling fear of wolves, and an initial battle in the woods leaves the Wolf exhausted and, unfortunately for Little Red, hungry.
As in the original tale, the Wolf stalks Little Red, ultimately ambushing her grandmother (Ying Zhang) and crawling into her bed to impersonate her, before being ferreted out by a suspicious Red.
The Hunter arrives just in time and overcomes his fear to subdue, not kill, the Wolf.
"It was interesting how they converted Chinese theater into our version of 'Red Riding Hood,'" said Sara Lechner, a junior environmental design interiors major. "The basics were there, but they added more to it."
After the cast took its bows, Fong revealed one last surprise.
"Our 'Red Riding Hood' has a happy ending," she said. "The Wolf and Grandma are married."
The real-life couple joined hands and their young son climbed on stage and jumped up and down to rapturous applause.