Neil Simon's Broadway play "The Odd Couple" has arrived in China, and in a global first-time event, a full cast of eight Western actors will perform the play — in Chinese.
The multilingual actors and actresses hail from six different Western countries, with Chinese director Gu Wei directing. It's an all-Mandarin version of the American comedy classic, with the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing hosting the show on two days: July 25 and 26.
While the expat cast with their Caucasian looks was chosen to portray the New York story set in Manhattan, the concept and the production is completely Chinese and managed by the Hebei Theater Company. According to Georg Anton, one of the Western actors appearing in the show, it's a pioneering attempt to reach Chinese audiences through their own language while keeping the original story from New York as authentic as possible.
The eight Chinese-speaking American and European performers come from all walks of life and are all based in China. While only some of them are professional actors, it is the combination of Mandarin skills and their different stage, TV, or entertainment backgrounds that makes each of them suitable for the show, said Austrian-born Anton, who plays the role of Speed in the play.
"When I first learned about the project, I had doubts whether it was actually helpful for the play to have foreigners do it in Chinese, but then I thought about how dubbed movies are successful all over the world in local languages and how no one is disturbed by the obvious story-language mismatch there," he said. "So, having an American-looking cast perform the American story of 'The Odd Couple' in Chinese might actually be the most genuine possible experience for the Beijing audience."
He added: "The play is full of sarcasm and American snappiness, so the Chinese director has a very hard task to make that work for the Chinese audience. It's definitely a one-of-its-kind project. It's pioneering, it's an experiment, and I'm very excited to be part of it!"
Anton is a Beijing-based actor from Austria who speaks five languages and has made a career of performing in China.