The American premiere of China Daily’s reporter Raymond Zhou’s play The Ring Road has been presented as a staged reading at this summer’s California International Theatre Festival in Calabasas. The native language of Zhou and the actors is Mandarin, yet this play was written and presented in English. The Ring Road is tightly structured, and its intention is clear. It is a story of the journey from innocence to experience, and the temptations one may encounter when moving from country to city life during the crucial formative years of one’s early adulthood (whenever that may be). Characters include a hopeful young couple and an emotionally unstable bartender in Beijing, a discontented older Chinese couple in San Francisco, a California producer, a manager, and a movie star. The characters eventually connect through a series of events, and the deneoument is both solid and intricately woven. The actors often perform with a sense of humour that translates well, and consistently demonstrate a dedicated sense of concentration.
The main character becomes a student abroad from Beijing to San Francisco, selling himself to an older married woman and a Hollywood producer in pursuit of success and notoriety. An accurate observation about the “monotony” of suburban life is made by a husband in San Francisco who leaves his wife and child to return to Beijing and embark on his own business venture. However, there are some outdated stereotypes, such as a Hollywood producer who uses his status to get men to sleep with him in exchange for a promise of fame. The characters of producer and manager serve the same purpose and could be integrated into one character. A series of scenes in which the producer and star reminisce about their past relationship lacks dramatic action, and might be more theatrically effective if performed as a single flashback. There is some believable truth evident in the portrayal of the naïve young lovers and the neglected wife in San Francisco, but the jaded producer and jilted movie star lack depth. Perhaps the latter characters are meant to be one-dimensional, as they do represent a corrupt and materialistic sector of society. If meticulous attention is given to character development in future rewrites, this piece has the potential to become an epic performance. Overall, the play is a highly ambitious undertaking about what motivates each of us when faced with the choice of either adapting to or resisting inevitable change as the international world becomes increasingly interconnected.