This past September and early October, I had the privilege of being in a production of Max Lee and Howard Rubenstein’s show, Romance of the Western Chamber, which is a collaboration between the Carnegie Arts Center and the Confucius Institute of Valparaiso, IN. It’s based on a story by the same name, aka Story of the Western Wing, written in China in the 13th Century (itself based on 7th century Chinese story called The Story of Yingying – just goes to show that rewrites/covers/rebirths existed throughout the arts and throughout time!)
The Lee/Rubenstein version stays fairly close to the original plotline. Would be Imperial Scholar Chang Junrui (aka Zhang Sheng) goes to the capital city, where he stays overnight in the Western Chamber of the temple. As he’s paying his respects to his deceased parents, he spies and falls in love with Tsui Yingying, who is staying in the Eastern Chamber with her mother, Lady Tsui, and her maidservant, Hong Niang. The three women are there to pay homage to Yingying’s father, who was the Prime Minister. After seeing Chang, Yingying also falls in love. There are two problems though:
- Yingying and Chang are from different classes
- Yingying’s father has already promised her hand in marriage to Cheng Heng, who is the new Prime Minister’s nephew
At the same time,the local bandit, Flying Tiger, who is also in love with Yingying, decides to storm the temple to kidnap Yingying to be his wife. Despite her daughter’s prior engagement (and with Yingying’s urging/suggestion) Lady Tsui announces that she’ll offer Yingying’s hand in marriage to anyone who can stop the bandit. Chang, who is blood brothers with General White Horse, uses his pull to arrange for the General to stop the bandits. General White Horse is victorious, Flying Tiger runs off, and Chang rejoices in winning the hand of Yingying.
But Lady Tsui reneges on the deal, and now the two are left to do what young lovers do- sneak around behind the parent’s back. Hong Niang sneaks Yingying into the Western Chamber, where Chang and Yingying spend the night. Lady Tsui finds out and realizing that her daughter loves him, tells Chang that she’ll consent to their marriage, assuming Chang can place in the top 3 of the Imperial Examinations. Chang packs his things and leaves, telling Yingying that he’ll return.
While Chang is gone, the spurned fiancee, Cheng Heng, shows up and tells a lie to Lady Tsui that Chang got 1st place, and with that place he was awarded the ambassador’s daughter as his wife. Lady Tsui, furious, tells Cheng Heng that he is once again Yingying’s finacee, much to Yingying’s dismay. When Chang returns, he convinces Yingying that Cheng Heng is a liar, and then in a battle of scholarly wits, soundly defeats Cheng Heng in a poetry contest. Defeated Cheng Heng leaves and the two are finally together.
Where have we heard this story before? Oh yeah, it’s like every RomCom ever made.
Anyway, here’s a ‘documentary’ made by one of the musicians for a class at Valparaiso University. Enjoy. I will post real clips in the future.
*Romance of the Western Chamber has been renewed for another run in the Midwest in Spring 2014*