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Review: 'Incident at Hidden Temple'

by Photo of Paul Hansen

Pan Asian Repertory Presents A New Play by Damon Chua

Review: 'Incident at Hidden Temple'


The Pan Asian Repertory Theatre is celebrating its 40th season by presenting the world premiere of Damon Chua's play Incident at Hidden Temple. Set in China in 1943, the sprawling drama contains a number of plot threads revolving around the complex political situation of a country that was at war with Japan while also dealing with its own acute internal divisions. These divisions were caused by the conflict between the Communist and Nationalist Chinese.

Americans, of course, fought along side China during World War II and the play opens with the mysterious murder of a U.S. serviceman. The search for the killer is a major plot thread of the drama. But there are a number of other story lines as well, including the disappearance of one of two sisters on a train and a Chinese American pilot (played by Tim Liu) who is assigned to find her. The pilot's true identity and allegiance are a little ambiguous.

In addition to the triangular conflict between the Communist and Nationalist Chinese and Japanese, other plot elements include a trip to China in 1941 by Ernest Hemingway and the search for an important Buddhist relic, as well as the placement of military bases to combat the Japanese.  And Tokyo Rose makes a cameo appearance through the radio, a mid-twentieth century version of "fake news."

The world sprawling was used in the first paragraph of this review for a reason.   The ambitious reach of the script and the production are to be commended. However, while watching Hidden Temple I sometimes had the impression that I was viewing a film that had been transferred to the stage. The epic quality of the events dealt with as well as the atmosphere and structure of the drama seemed to lend themselves to the expansive capabilities of cinema than to the more narrow visual possibilities of live theater. I could easily see the script of Hidden Temple being converted into a screenplay. The multiple plot lines of the drama would particularly appeal to those who know that life can be complex and ambiguous.

This is the second play that Chua has written for Pan Asian Repertory. The prior work was Film Chinois set in Beijing in 1947. The current production is directed by Kaipo Schwab.

The lighting by Pamela Kupper is on the dark side to accentuate the noirish aspects of the story. One of the themes of the drama is that the Hidden Temple is consistently referred to and yet no one seems to be quite sure of its physical location. Amidst all of the political and military intrigue, there are some fairly profound philosophical insights in the script. Hopefully not giving too much away, when Kupper's lighting finally reveals the temple in a lovely effect, I was reminded of a statement by one of Tolstoy's characters in War and Peace that “The source of blessedness is not without us but within...”

Incident at Hidden Temple is playing through February 12 at the Harold Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row located at 410 West 42 nd St. 

Comments (13)Add a comment
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    Carolyn Roesbery

    February 12th, 2017 @12:35

    Damon Chua is a fantastic writer. It is almost as if he has his own genre! I would love to see this one!

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