The play Bức Chân Dung (Portrait) by director Lê An will debut in HCM City on February 26. This is a part of the project Antigone launched by the Goethe Institute in Hà Nội aiming to promote Antigone among Vietnamese people.
Việt Nam News reporter Nguyễn Bình spoke with Lê An about her new work and her troupe Saigon Theatreland.
Why did you name the play Bức Chân Dung?
From the original screenplay Antigone by Greek writer Sophocles, we stage the play Bức Chân Dung inspired by the first act of Antigone. The story is set in Sài Gòn in the 1970s.
Scriptwriter Nguyễn Phát and I wanted to focus on the decisions of the characters in the play when they learn their brother is dead.
The 70-minute play has three characters – two sisters and their father. The father character combines Sophocles’ characters, Creon in Antigone and Oedipus in Oedipus the King.
After the death of the brother in the family, the father turns a blind eye to his daughters’ demands. The big sister wants to bury her brother in their hometown but her younger sister refuses.
In Sài Gòn (former name of HCM City) before the country’s reunification in 1975 and the loss in their family, the father and his daughters are on opposite sides.
The name of the play has two meanings. One is the portrait of the dead brother which is put on the home altar. And the second meaning is the journey to find the self-portraits of the main characters.
Is this the first time you have staged a work by Sophocles? What difficulties did you encounter?
Yes, this is the first time for me to work with Sophocles. I read Oedipus the King when I studied at the HCM Arts and Culture College.
Translator Nguyễn Thị Minh introduced me to the Antigone project. Luckily for me, Minh is PhD in literature and a researcher on Antigone.
I also participated in a seminar held by Goethe Institute on Antigone. I had the chance to view the play from different angles not only as a theatre director.
The institute’s project aims to introduce Antigone to Vietnamese people including younger audiences. As a result, I have to brainstorm how to make a play attracts young people.
I thought that I should make the point easier to understand in a direct way. This is what young people need.
That is why I made the play focusing on how the main characters make their decisions.
Why did you establish Saigon Theatreland?
I graduated in theatre directing in 2004. At that time I find it difficult to develop my career despite it being a glorious time for theatre in HCM City.
I thought about the sustainable development of the theatre which was threatened by television gameshows. Moreover, I really wanted to know about how theatre around the world develops and how it attracts young audiences.
I decided to learn more at Shanghai International Studies University. But after my return home, once again I did not know how to begin. I really wanted to work and contribute to theatre development.
I quit job in theatre for about ten years from 2007 to 2017.
I spend time researching community theatre and practical art in community development and education. I have learned that there are different theatrical forms that have been used in community theatre projects.
I founded Little Net and Saigon Theatreland in 2017. Whilst Little Net is the place for practical art to educate and develop the community, Saigon Theatreland aims to help young artists and connect them with young audiences.
Last year, Saigon Theatreland had a project called Sơn Ca and Community Dialogue. It is a play adapted from A Doll’s House by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It is about women’s rights.
We also organised seminars and a series of activities about the theme with the participation of social researchers and experts.
At Saigon Theatreland, the performance helped start other activities to connect the audience, artists and social researchers.
What do you expect from the audience after they watch the Vietnamese version of Antigone?
Portrait is the third project of Saigon Theatreland. We are warmly received by the audiences, artists and experts. Their support is a good sign for development of Saigon Theatreland.
We hope that Portrait will win audiences’ hearts helping them to understand and sympathise with the roles. They will experience and question themselves about difficulties that they will face in their lives.
We are working with colleagues and universities to organise in-person performances next month. – VNS