Set amidst the backdrop of the tragic 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre in Bejing, China, Tiananmen Requiem tells the story of a gay couple living in a world where the support and rights of Chinese homosexual citizens are non-existent.
So sensitive is the topic that the playwright of Tiananmen Requiem remains anonymous out of fear of retaliation from the Chinese government, even today. The play is co-sponsored by the highly visible, notable political activist Wang Dan, who has spent most of his life advocating for democracy in China in spite of efforts by the Chinese government to suppress his efforts.
The characters of this play include Shuyin (Michael Benzinger), a gentle artist longing to move to America with his conflicted lover, Wang Yang (Charles Pang) and Wang Yang’s young daughter Alyssa (Karina Wen). The primary conflict of the play is the fact that Wang Yang is a Chinese soldier who finds himself on the wrong side of the massacre.
Tiananmen Requiem alternates between scenes in 1989 with Shuyin and Wang Yang and those of the present day with Wang Yang and a young adult Alyssa, who’s preparing for college. A supporting cast playing double roles consists of Jeremy Rafal (Officer Li / Soldier), Joyce Keokham (Julie / LuLu) and John Chan (Zeng Feng / Officer).
Supporting the two different time periods, the uncredited set design separates the foreground 1989 space and the upstage present-day area with a folding room divider and a knick-knack shelf. Regrettably, the left half of the audience had to watch many of the present-day scenes through the shelf. The folding room divider provided no discernible value; removing it and moving the shelf further stage right would have provided more visibility for the scenes and still have suitably separated the spaces.
Benzinger’s performance as Shuyin is at times sensitive and tender, and Charles Pang as Wang Yang is often passionate and earnest. In large part, their performances do not connect with each other, and moments of genuine intimacy between the two actors were only sometimes present. Direction by Dennis Yueh-Yeh Li fails to ensure these actors listen and respond to each other organically, resulting in siloed performances and an overall lack of verisimilitude in the play.
Supporting performances by Keokham and Chan are ultimately too superficial to contribute to any real truthfulness in their characters. Notable exceptions are gratefully provided by Wen, whose performance as Alyssa is heartfelt and believable, and Rafal, who plays the small part of Officer Li with steadiness and consistency.
The play itself is suitably dramatic and thought-provoking; as a piece of theater it should continue to be presented to enlighten future audiences. This particular production isn’t quite up to the task of delivering the play to maximum impact.
Tiananmen Requiem (through March 10 – 27, 2022)
The Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal St, in Manhattan
For tickets visit http://www.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1078947
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission