CATS show blends myth, reality
To Diane Fetterly, director of “The Woman Warrior,” the play is a great package.
It includes the true story of a Chinese-American growing up in the 1950s in Stockton, a mythological story of Fa Mu Lan (the fabled woman warrior), flashbacks to life in China, and historical facts about Chinese immigrants who worked in Northern California and elsewhere on the Transcontinental Railroad.
“It’s cool,” said Fetterly, who directed “The Joy Luck Club” for Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra a year ago.
CATS brings “The Woman Warrior” to Nevada Theatre tonight and for 10 more performances through Feb. 9.
“The Woman Warrior” is based on Maxine Hong Kingston’s nonfiction books “The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts” and “China Men.” It focuses in particular on the early 1950s, when Kingston was a teen-ager in Stockton.
Fetterly, who read the two books several years ago, said the play takes her favorite parts from both books.
“The Woman Warrior” is about Kingston’s parents, who moved from China to New York, and then to Stockton. After her father’s two partners of 15 years stole their Chinese laundry business in New York, Kingston’s parents moved to Stockton so her father could run a gambling house there and a laundry later on. Kingston and her five siblings were born in the California valley town.
The play addresses the turmoil Kingston experiences as she hears her mother’s stories about growing up in China, and about Chinese customs and legends. Kingston started first grade speaking Say Yup, a dialect of Cantonese, at a Stockton public school.
“Maxine didn’t know how to fit in. She was very confused how to behave, so she shut down for 18 months,” Fetterly said. “She didn’t go to school. She didn’t talk to family. She went to bed.”
Although “The Woman Warrior” is sad, Fetterly said, it is also uplifting in that its protagonist emerged more than OK years later, becoming an award-winning author and today a creative writing professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
“I hope the audience comes away with a better understanding of the immigrant experience, an appreciation of how you can overcome hardships and rise above it,” Fetterly said. “Maxine is a successful, brilliant woman.”
“The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts” won a National Book Critics Circle Award for the best work of nonfiction in 1976.
Her “China Men” won a National Book Award and was a Pulitzer Prize runner-up, both in 1981.
Fetterly is excited to meet Kingston, who will be at the play’s opening on Friday.
“I really admire Maxine’s work. I’m excited to meet the person whose life this is,” Fetterly said. “I hope the play’s true to what she wants.”
The CATS production marks the fourth time the play has been staged since the play was written by Deborah Rogin in 1994 for the Berkeley Repertory Company and the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston.
“The Woman Warrior” has a large cast – 28 – with many members playing multiple roles and 21 cast in Chinese mythical roles, including animals, the woman warrior and her warriors. Catherine Ione designed more than 100 costumes, many in traditional Chinese dress.
Two immortal gods are portrayed by 12-foot-tall Chinese puppets created by Nevada City artist Marci Wolfe.
“The Woman Warrior” previews tonight at 8 p.m. All tickets for the preview only are $5 at the door. Friday’s show is sold out; tickets are available for all other performances.
Volunteers are still needed to usher and sell refreshments. Call Barbara Guzzetta, the play’s general manager, at 274-1538 for more information.
WHAT: 3The Woman Warrior²
WHEN: Tonight, Friday, Saturday, Jan. 25, Jan. 26, Feb. 1, Feb. 2, Feb. 8 and Feb. 9 at 8 p.m., and Jan. 27 and Feb. 3 at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad St., Nevada City
ADMISSION: $13 in advance, $15 general and $11 for students and seniors. Tickets at Nevada City Postal Co., Golden Flower Trading Company & Museum, Odyssey Books and at the door.
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