Chinese avant-garde playwright Zhang Xian’s play Rape, initially completed in 2001, is a poignantly compelling postmodern drama on gender, politics, and power reversal situated in an imagined temporal and spatial setting. The play consists of a male character speaking throughout the play and a female character who remains mute and voiceless. From the man’s monologue, we come to realize that she seems to be Antigone in Sophocles’ play, while the man seems to be Creon, King of Thebes. In fact, the play is not the story of Antigone and Creon, but an abstract fable about politics in the East. These monologues of the male rapist contain strong language and large amounts of sexual content, which by themselves are figurative articulations in a political allegory. Reader discretion is strongly advised considering the play’s heavy graphic content, as well as the character’s provocative, ferocious, and potentially offensive expressions. The playwright Zhang Xian is aware that many of his plays, including this one, have not been staged in China because of his resistance against the institutional role of Chinese theater. He candidly observes his role to be that of “a special society performer—a dissident actor playing his unofficial part in China’s National Drama.” As a representation of Zhang’s work, Rape is forward-looking not only because of its productive new interpretations in the Chinese and global contexts of the #MeToo movement and feminist awakening, but also because of its ambition in projecting a distinctive anti-authoritarian political philosophy.
Translator’s note: The play was originally titled Bei jianwu de Andi 被奸污的安蒂(The Raped A-N-T-I). The heroine’s name, “A-N-T-I,” suggests that this play, inspired by Sophocles’s Antigone, is rather independent from the original work. The current title, Rape, represents a deliberate estrangement from its mythical connection. Also, rather than cor-responding fully to the English expression “rape,” the Chinese phrase jianwu comprises two distinctive folds of meaning: that of jian 奸, the act of rape, and of wu 污, meaning “to be contaminated.” The playwright observes that the play highlights a theme of jian er bu wu 奸而不污, meaning “raped but not contaminated.” This approach has led to productive discussions among artists and scholars. However, the play has never been put on stage inChina due to its politically presaging content. A political fable, the text draws heavily from the official rhetoric of the Chinese administrative authorities. Examples include “foreign reactionary forces” and “international reputation of our Nation.” Translating these political terms into idiomatic English expressions will inevitably change the context of the play. For example, the phrase “separate church from the state” indicates more of a Western cultural context than does “separate politics from religion.” For the playwright, the play is not about a specific country, but may apply to any nation in diverse cultural settings. In this light, the translation is kept as a wittingly “ambiguous” text regarding its national, cultural, and racial backdrop.—Li Gu
A man (who seems to be Creon), a woman (who seems to be Antigone)
An unidentified space, which seems to be an adytum at the beginning, then shifts into a palace, then a cave, and then streets. The subject is a naked woman in the scene, placed on a large piece of white cloth which almost covers up the entire stage. In staging she remains motionless like an oil painting or stone statue, with no verbal or facial expression, her face and poise as perfect as a still life. This onstage image may vary slightly in individual scenes but remains basically a still picture. Blackouts serve as intervals between scenes.
The man is the only actor and speaker. He seems to be speaking to a woman and to himself as well, but it is not important who is he speaking to. As a signal feature of Zhang Xian’s plays, the man mutters under his breath, making his words highly suggestive. In a very low gentle voice, he controls the stream of air with his teeth and mouth to make a whispered sound. The audience will hear the words clearly, like hearing someone whispering in their ears.
Some options for stage performance:
- The woman character could be played by many women ranging from young to old in age.
- The shifting backdrop is made up of famous paintings of naked women from ancient times to the present.
- The shifting backdrop depicts dancing naked women, or screens dancing scenes in films.
- Naked women performing table dance or a peep show.
- Women engaging in any popular performance that is considered base and disgraceful.
- Digital images might be used to represent women or men.
- The woman could pose like a plaster statue, with slight movements now and then; the man may pose as a huge clothes stand.
(An image with the woman in the center. Out of the scene, someone is singing.)
You have two minutes.
Put on your clothes. Hurry, put on your clothes.
You are deliberate. You want my guards and secretaries to see us. You want the cooks, the cleaning women, and all the staff here see us.
This place is haunted by scopophiliacs. Peepers are hidden in each of the darker corners. They have seen what happened. Soon rumors will fly all over the country.
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