Comedy or Tragedy - Depends on Where You Stand
In a previous post, I wrote about how comedy can evolve into tragedy depending on the age of the protagonist. There's also the realtors' maxim - location, location, location - that can influence how we react to comedy or drama. I remember reading an article about the first production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman in China. As you may remember, Willy Loman, an aging traveling salesman, comes to the realization that his wife would be better off financially if he were dead.
This great American drama was translated into Chinese and Arthur Miller personally supervised the production. Opening night was considered a very special event; up until this time American plays were not permitted in the tightly closed society. But relations between the two countries were beginning to thaw, and this drama was seen by Chinese leadership as more of an indictment of capitalism than anything they could create.
After many weeks of rehearsal by the Chinese actors, the play opened to a packed house. As the play progressed, it was clear the audience was confused. The play was incomprehensible to the sensibilities of Chinese. Looking at Willy Loman's life, they couldn't understand why he was unhappy. He had a big house - by Chinese standards. A dozen relatives were not forced to live with him for them all to survive, as was common throughout China. And, the Lomans had just made the final payment of their refrigerator. This is tragedy? Why wasn't Willy Loman grateful?
In China, a man would be very successful if he had all that Willy Loman had acquired. It would be interesting to see, after years of economic growth in China, if the play is now a bit more understandable. Did angst come to China with their larger paychecks?