Golden Lotus, Providence (puppet design, performer)

On November 14th, 2002, The Golden Lotus, a play about foot-binding in ancient China and one woman’s courage to defy tradition, written by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig opened at Rites and Reason Theatre in Providence. In the Golden Lotus, I designed and fabricated bound feet puppets in collaboration with costume designer Cynthia Meeks and performed in the role of the villain,  the town foot binder.

The Golden Lotus, 2002
The Golden Lotus, 2002

The Golden Lotus ran from November 14th-November 17th, 2002 with four performances.

From the Brown Daily Herald, Arts & Culture Section, November 15th, 2002, Arts & Culture Review, A lyrical gem, ‘Golden Lotus’ attacks Chinese foot binding by Jessica Weisberg, page 3:

The Golden Lotus, written by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig ’05 and directed by Jennifer Swain opened at the Rites and Reason Theatre November 14th. The play provides a lyrical portrayal of foot binding in ancient China and a young woman’s efforts to defy a misogynistic tradition.

The protagonists are two sisters – Bai Xiang, played by Naia Cucukov ’04, and Bai He, played by Joanne Suh ’05 – both of whom had their feet bound at the command of their mother, played by Jennifer Cheng, who enforces the demeaning tradition despite her discomfort inflicting pain upon her daughters. However, the honor and marital benefits of a woman with bound feet, or “lotuses,” is too vast to be shunned because of moral ambiguity.

As the girls grow up and prepare to be married, their attitudes regarding the traditions of their past and their mother’s expectations for their futures diverge. While Bia Xiang embraces her impending role as a “quiet, obedient and submissive” wife, her sister Bai He rejects the glorified submissiveness of women, desiring freedom from her culture and the customs her mother embodies. Bai He refuses to be married and threatens to “take my life on my wedding night” should her mother enforce marriage upon her. Before her sister weds, Bai He makes her promise that her daughters will be spared from the painful custom.

When Bia Xiang later bears a daughter, she undergoes tremendous internal conflict over whether her seven-year-old daughter Pearl, played by Elizabeth Cespedes ’05, should have her feet bound. Although she wishes to comply with her promise to Bai He, she does not wish to see her daughter, a social outcast.

The play is narrated by two choruses. The Bamboo Maidens, played by Cespedes, Serena Hon ’06, support Bai He and her liberal beliefs endorsing women’s liberation. The Village Women, played by Jacques Dudre, Amy Giguere, Laura Green ’05 and Amy Hsu ’06, spport Bai Xiang and her mother in upholding ancient tradition. The choruses add a lyrical quality to the play, reciting passages rhythmically in contrast with the terse dialogue of the main characters.

The play also has its share of dancing. In a sequence toward the beginning, before the protagonists are introduced to the audience, Giguere and Hsu perform a dance representative of the freedom the sisters enjoy before they are paralyzed by custom.

Another important character is Kwan-Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy played by Donna Edmonds Mitchell, who provides Bai He with advice in the form of confusing aphorisms such as, “The lotus floats in muddy waters, but its flowers remain spotless.”

The play’s villain is the town’s foot binder, Marsian, who explicitly enjoys inflicting pain upon young girls and finally convinces Bai Xiang to betray her promise to Bai He.

The play received a well-deserved standing ovation, as “The Golden Lotus” provided both an entertaining story about familial relations and conflict, and commentary on the ancient Chinese custom. The play is being produced as part of Asian History Month.