Voices Carry

Excerpt from Ying Ruocheng’s collaborative autobiography

I wouldn't say Arthur is a very lyrical playwright - and I don't think he thought so himself - but one could feel his mind seething with ideas. And he knew exactly what he wanted. And what he didn't want. And one thing he didn't want was wigs and noses.

We Chinese have been producing Western plays for a very long time and we have been using the most modern techniques to make up the Chinese face into a Caucasian face with great verisimilitude. When it is badly done, we make ourselves laughingstocks. But even when it is successful, the audience might start thinking about our wonderful makeup jobs - what the noses are made of, and what would happen if one were to fall off - and forget to concentrate on the play itself. So Arthur did not want any blond wigs or big noses for the play, and this became one battle we had to fight. His decision greatly disappointed our makeup staff at the Beijing People's Art Theatre. One day they held a costume parade, exhibiting a variety of wonderful wigs for Arthur, everything from platinum blond to red.

"How do we get rid of this?" he asked me sotto voce, not wishing to hurt their feelings.

Eventually, we found a way - and finally all of us actors had our own hair. True the characters in the play live in Brooklyn, New York, and not in downtown Bejing, but we wanted audiences to know the pulse of their hearts, not the color of their hair.