What are women willing to do for power in a man’s world?
This production, set in early 19th century China, explores the true story of Shih Yang and her rise from prostitution to her command of one of China’s most ruthless pirate combines. We know that she married a gang leader named Cheng I, but how were they able to forge a confederation of pirate fleets that numbered 80,000 strong? When her husband died, how was it that the Widow Cheng was elected the Paramount Admiral of the combined pirate fleet? Was it her charisma that enabled her to transform the pirate’s violent activities to the more lucrative and stable business of protection and extortion?
The Pirate widow Cheng is performed with a wide range of puppetry techniques that include table-top, halogen shadow, object theatre, and human size figures. A theatrical convention devised for this production was a visual caste system to distinguish between the core characters, the secondary characters and the faceless masses: Cheng and her immediate family were highly detailed and realistic, the other admirals had object heads on realistic bodies (e.g. a rock, a piece of drift wood, a bundle of rope), and the lesser pirates, officials and population were sticks with simple fabric hinting at costume. The play was staged mainly on two wheeled boxes, that were regrouped and reconfigured to represent the many locations and scenes needed.
First version: Performed as a co-production at the Center for Puppetry Arts, Atlanta in 2000
Directed by Jon Ludwig, designed and built by Ann Powell and David Powell, performed by Ann Powell and David Powell and Lorna Howley, with music by Klimchak, and light design by Liz Lee.
Second Version: Played at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space in 2002
Directed by Mark Cassidy, designed and performed by Ann Powell and David Powell, music by Darren Copeland, lighting design by Gareth Crew, set dressed by Wendy White, and stage managed by Varrick Grimes