The Great Emancipator Meets The Monkey King
Lincoln goes to China in the days before Tiananmen…
Did Abraham Lincoln inspire China’s Tiananmen demonstrators in 1989? The Great Emancipator Meets The Monkey King is a one-act bilingual rap opera first presented by Gary and a group of Chinese actors and musicians to a Shanghai audience of 1700 three months before Chinese students took to the streets demanding government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
In the drama, the first performance of rap music in the People’s Republic of China, the American champion of freedom Abraham Lincoln joins forces with Sun Wukong, the wily magical monkey who is China’s most popular folklore hero. Together they call on the Victims of Fear to throw off the chains of oppression and seize the liberty written in the constitution of the human heart.
“This dramatic encounter between freedom and fear (Moore’s bi-lingual musical drama The Great Emancipator meets the Monkey King) was China’s first live performance of rap music, presented to a cheering audience of 1,700 on New Year’s Eve, 1988, just a few months before the Tiananmen demonstrations began.”—Broadway World
Burning in China
Burning in China is Gary Moore’s drama about an American professor drawn with his Chinese students into the longings of the Tiananmen democracy uprising. It is set, following director Caleb Deschanel’s staging in New York, as a stage blend of video and drama. Actor Jeff LeBeau starred in that sold-out 2010 New York production, as well as in touring presentations of the play.
As recounted in Burning In China, Gary’s reticent adult students at Shanghai International Studies University began to open up when he helped them create a performance for a university arts festival. The Great Emancipator Meets The Monkey King – the first hip hop performance in the People’s Republic of China – was born. But Pandora’s box was open.
Director Caleb Deschanel explains: “This play brings to life a time of rising expectations for liberty and reform in China. The rap opera that Gary and his students performed for a cheering New Year's Eve audience of 1700 won the praise of the Communist authorities. But times were changing, and all across China mass demonstrations soon rose up to call for more freedom as protesters adapted Lincoln-like language in inventing their slogans.” Soon professor and students alike were beyond themselves into dangers of self-expression they never imagined.
After the fevered rising of the movement to its violent end in Tiananmen Square, circumstances forced Moore to leave China. His students, some themselves fleeing the crackdown by their iron-fisted government, begged Moore to tell their story when he reached the outside world. Tragic but filled with humor and warmth, Burning In China integrates little-seen footage of urban China that Deschanel himself shot in 1988. The resulting multi-media experience gives audiences a truly human look inside one of the major ideological struggles of the twentieth century.
“The gripping autobiographical play delivers a stark account of an American teacher who witnesses first-hand the student unrest leading up to the Tiananmen Square massacre—and the price they paid in their struggle against authoritarian rule.”
Beaver Falls, a play about destiny and self-creation, centers on a character familiar in small-town life: the dazzling majorette who gets pregnant in high school. But though Sherry’s fall from grace is common, her struggle as a young single mother is heroic, and the drama’s style unique.
The play tells a naturalistic story of teenage pregnancy, spouse abuse, and single motherhood, but uses stylized methods for operatic impact. A single actor in the foreground and a keyboard musician in the background present the tale. Its language in shifting rhythms is gritty but fully scored, with music sometimes atmospheric and sometimes tightly fit to the words. Projected black and white film noir images background the tale’s changing action. Smoke and shifting lights suggest mill town and pool hall afloat in a night of stars.
The writing of Beaver Falls was supported by the Artist Fellowship of the Vermont Arts Council and the play was successfully produced in January and February, 2003, by Lost Nation Theater in Montpelier, one of Vermont’s finest professional theaters. Kim Bent starred, Kathleen Keenan directed, and Fred Wilber composed and performed the music. The show’s transformative lighting was by Jeffrey E. Salzberg.
“In its telling, Beaver Falls conjures a more poignant portrait of factory-town life than any number of productions like Norma Rae or Flashdance. What’s more, the simplicity of the play contrasts intriguingly with the complex lives of its characters…. Even without these spare production elements, however, this lean work would likely compel interest from the opening lines to the last beat. The story comes to vivid life through language—inventive rhyming and deft descriptions that evoke the volatility and entropy of life on the margins. Moore… deserves major “props” from the slam-poetry and hip-hop crowd for his lyrical stylings, which seem drawn from jazz poetry…. “Made in U.S.A.” may not mean the same thing it once did, and today a town like Beaver Falls might be a desolate place indeed. But in Moore’s play, the American Dream does not go down without a fight.
—Erik Esckilsen in Seven Days, Vermont’s Arts Weekly
Long Lankin’s Curse
Did the curse of a deforming illness come down from the Middle Ages to afflict Abraham Lincoln? Could a man of our time face the agonizing mission to take an ancient curse from the world by dying the terrible death that Booth’s bullet spared the martyred president?
Bethany, sixteen, discovers that she’s pregnant. She’s alone with this news because her father, hiding in another room of their apartment, has cut himself off from her and all else as he deforms with an incurable illness. Bethany, who never knew her mother, is deserted by her school friends and confides in a statue of Abraham Lincoln she takes from her father’s room. Her father, a Doctor who refuses to be treated by others, is obsessed with Lincoln, believing that he developed a similar disease late in life. Could their illnesses have a common source deep in the tragedy of an ancient time? Long Lankin’s Curse unfolds the story of two characters facing adversity in very different ways.
Gary on Long Lankin’s Curse: “I sometimes joke that this play is my answer to what Lincoln would do if he came back today. The situation isn’t pretty. But the story is a message of hope, like Burning in China, a sighting of light in darkness. Once I asked an actor rehearsing a staged reading of this work what he would tell someone it’s about. “Redemption,” he said. I liked that. I wrote Long Lankin’s Curse to contrast a world view that finds value in a cosmic drama of good and evil, and a world view that finds its value in love. The play’s two characters live together but are divided as if in civil war, and they tell their stories past each other until fate—or is it love—makes their stories come together.
Center Stage of Montpelier provided funding for a sold-out workshop production of Long Lankin’s Curse with John D. Alexander and Callie Fothergill in the principal roles and direction by Morgan Irons. Fred Wilber composed and performed the music. Watch for a Los Angeles production of Long Lankin’s Curse in 2020.