Madame Cassia

Madame Cassia is based on an anonymous Chinese play, The Horse Trader’s Tale (Fanma ji 販馬記) that has been popular in China since the 19th century. Students learn the lyrics in the original language from resident kunqu artists. We will try to retain the traditional Chinese acting and vocal styles while adding contemporary musical elements under the directorship of Mr. Liang Jianfeng, a distinguished music producer. Professional kunqu musicians will accompany the final performance, which will be delivered in English. For the English adaptation of the play, revisions have been made by the instructor to accommodate student actors who are not entirely versed in traditional Chinese acting. This ever-evolving presentation relies on student participation and contribution throughout the production process. As such, the THEA 427 (Chinese Acting), THEA 420C (Chinese Voice), and THEA 654 (Chinese Adornment) classes explore together the possibilities of staging a musical comedy using traditional Chinese tunes and of adapting a traditional Chinese play for American college theater.


Story of the Original Play

Madame Cassia is based on an anonymous Chinese play The Horse Trader’s Tale (Fanma ji 販馬記), also known as An Extraordinary Twin Meeting (Qishuanghui 奇雙會), or The Three Hand-Pulls (Sanla 三拉). This chuanqi 傳奇 (southern drama) play has at least twenty something scenes. The story is probably set in the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). It tells of a horse-dealer named Li Qi 李奇, whose wife died after giving birth to a son and daughter, named Baotong 保童 and Guizhi 桂枝 respectively. The woman he married drove the children out of the house while Li Qi was on a horse-dealing trip. There are at least two versions in regards to the boy’s fate. In one version, he jumped into the river, but he was rescued by a fisherman. The fisherman then took him home and reared him as a son. In another version, he was attacked by a tiger, but he was saved by a woodcutter, who then raised him as a son. He eventually distinguished himself through exceptional examination scores, and was appointed Lord High Inspector.


The little girl, after failing to find her younger brother, also attempted to commit suicide but was saved and adopted by a family. Later she married  a scholar named Zhao Chong 趙寵, whom she accompanied to her hometown upon his appointment as magistrate there. 


Li Qi returned only to find both children missing. He questioned the maidservant, who dared not tell him the truth and hung herself. Li Qi’s wife, who had committed adultery with a local man, accused Li Qi of having caused the maidservant’s suicide by an assault upon the poor maidservant’s  virtue. The local magistrate, who had been bribed, had Li Qi tortured and cast into prison. There he remained till Zhao Chong (his son-in-law) took up his post as the new magistrate.


On the modern stage, only three excerpted scenes survive. The first scene opens with the daughter, Guizhi hearing pitiful sounds of wailing from the adjoining jail. Since Zhao Chong is away on an inspection tour, she orders the prisoner to be admitted to the inner chamber. After questioning him she discovers that he really is her father, but she decides not to reveal her identity to him yet. 


In the second scene, her husband returns. In tears, she tells him how she and her brother were driven out by their stepmother. It turns out that her husband was also driven from home by his stepmother, so he is moved by her story. He devises a plan for Li Qi’s release: He prepares a grievance to redress Li Qi’s case, and then Guizhi would dress in male attire (since women were not allowed to speak in public) and accompany him to meet the newly appointed Lord High Inspector. 


The third scene is the long awaited reunion. Lord High Inspector Baotong ascertains Madame Cassia’s identity as his long-lost older sister and summons Li Qi. After confirming that he is his long-lost father, he brings him to his apartment. Li Qi is thunderstruck at the scene that ensues, for the magistrate Zhao Chong, his wife Guizhi, and the Lord High Inspector Li all fall on their knees before him in filial piety. The family reunion is filled with boundless joy.