By Lydia Solis
Chief Correspondent, Southern California
Second of 2 parts
INGLEWOOD, CA – Two Lydias appeared onstage atop a grassy knoll together, and someone lost her head, in the closing acts of a four-part play based on the centuries-old Chinese novel “The Dream of the Red Chamber,” mostly acted outside at the sunny Edward Vincent Jr. Park here.
I played Maid No. 1 in Act III of director Henry Ong’s staging of the18th century star-crossed lovers’ romance by Cao Xueqin. I delivered my one-liner robustly: “A present for you, Mistress Phoenix.” Meantime, actress Lydia Look was doing the heavy lifting in the closing acts of the second installment of “Why Dream in Inglewood?” on Saturday, May 20.
Chopped head landed at author’s feet.
My daughter played Maid No. 2, and she had the same line I did, while Fil Am actor Robert Paterno settled into his usual multiple roles, including as another maid, Cherry, who was asked by her lord to be his concubine. “I’d rather be a nun,” Paterno indignantly replied. Later, Paterno played a singer in the court of Mistress Phoenix, and he almost was beheaded.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Since it was my birthday on May 19, Henry Ong led the cast and audience in a rousing rendition of the “Happy Birthday” song. My daughter and I rehearsed our lines while the cast of 14 did a run-through of the staged reading, which took place outdoors for Act III and indoors, after a lunch intermission, at the Willie Agee Community Playhouse theater for the final Act IV.
Many of the lines for Acts III-IV had to do with actors, such as: “But being an actor, I’m not very rich;” or “We actors are an insecure lot”; or the line that got a good laugh, “Actors are not to be trusted.” The lines, “Do you have more than one head singer? Then keep the one you have!” was directed toward Paterno as he was playing a court minstrel.
Well, that proved to be a foreshadowing.
Near the end of Act III, a maid who betrayed the trust of one of the noble families got her head chopped off by a sword. No, it wasn’t Cherry played by Paterno. The realistic chopped head rolled along the grassy stage, but later it ended up on the floor next to me inside the Agee theater.
Robert Paterno and Lydia Look play multiple roles.
It was a relief, then, that Lydia Look kept her head in the finale of the play when the star-crossed lover, Black Jade, dies of tuberculosis. Chinese was spoken for the funeral and it was a nice touch to end the moral fable of manners between two cousins who were born, not with silver spoons in their mouths, but jade pendants. The play wove ghostly appearances as it detailed the decline of the once-noble Chia family during the Ching Dynasty.
On Saturday, May 27, the play on late imperial Chinese culture had a marathon show of Acts I-IV, with three intermissions. The play kicked off outdoors with Acts I-II on Earth Day, .
Playwright and Director Henry Ong adapted the romance into the four-act, six-hour play, “Why Dream in Inglewood?” as part of the Inglewood Growing Artists Performed Projects Initiative Artist’s Grant awarded to Ong. Violinist Longo Chu added live music to the performance on-the-move. Chu had to carry his violin and music stand as the actors turned green lawns into palaces and schools and surreal rooms filled with magical happenings. For the final act, he got to sit down in the middle of the stage to play his cello.
And my acting? It was a nice dream, while it lasted.