In Hand Stories, Yeung Faï's sensual dream-like meditation on five generations of Yeung family glove puppeteers, salvation comes in the form of a slightly demented if well-meaning angel who cannot help but scream Queen songs off-key to the delight of audience members. This does not represent the high point of the night's performance artistically -- nor is it particularly subtle -- but it is certainly one of its funnier moments.
Divided into eighteen sketches that in part also simultaneously recount the history of modern China, the presentation is otherwise sublime. With the help of the charismatic young Yoann Pencolé -- who plays the able assistant and collaborates with Yeung FaÏ throughout the evening -- Hand Stories delivered a rare glimpse into a beautiful, delicate art form that the Chinese, among others, have perfected over the centuries.
Performed in the intimate setting of the Clark Theater Studio to live and recorded music, Hand Stories keeps a relatively bare stage: a screen where video footage of family members succeeds upon images of open skies and deep waters hangs from the back wall and to the front right, glove puppets of the Yeung family sit on long black incense candles. The action proceeds as Yeung Shen teaches his son the art of glove puppetry, an art form where entire stories are told in the most vibrant ways simply by manipulating one's fingers inside a hand puppet. In the following scenes Yeung Shen becomes a victim of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, symbolized here by a fearsome dragon puppet (brilliantly operated by Pencolé) that would scare the pants off even the most jaded viewer. He is then sent to a labor camp and eventually dies in a hospital -- but not before the light of his art has been passed on to his son.
Yeung Faï eventually goes to jail and watches as his son Yang Fen abandons him to find his fortune in America, where he actually ends up destitute and depressed until the visit from the aforementioned white angel. Along the way, Yeung Faï and Pencolé stage remarkable scenes of courtship between man and woman and fight scenes of all sorts, including one with a tiger who gets a rather rough case of indigestion after swallowing one of the men alive! Scene seventeen (titled simply Solo 3) in which Yeung Faï teaches his assistant to perfect his art form is one of the most touching since the entire piece is a reflection on links -- between father and son, master and assistant.
Each time the story of one of the Yeung family members is told, his puppet is taken down and eventually disappears from the stage. Towards the end of the performance, Yeung Faï lights the candles where the family puppets once hung and then extinguishes them. For a long pause, he watches the smoke drift into the air, his ancestors' souls rising along with the smoke. To his great credit we in the audience, mesmerized, can feel them too rising slowly through the ages and out into the universe.
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