The drama "Ssu Lang T' an Mu" is a little like "Days of Our Lives," sometimes quite like a Bruce Lee movie and occasionally similar to Gilbert and Sullivan, "Moses and Aron" and "Waiting for Godot."
But these are all inadequate to convey the flavor of the sweet-and-sour Peking opera now playing (in English) at the Studio Theatre through March 21. The show (whose title translates "Fourth Brother Visits His Mother") is not really much like anything else. It can be recommended wholeheartedly to those in search of something different.
The large cast is all male except for one walk-on role, a slave girl who also plays percussion in the orchestra.Three of the four persons in the orchestra play percussion -- the other one plays a gu chin, a two-stringed fiddle. Half of the male actors play and sing female roles, which makes the show a feast for those who enjoy falsetto singing in pentatonic melodies (which again and again seem to sound like the same pentatonic melody).
The spoken dialogue, usually in Chinese tones, sounds a bit like Schoenberg's Sprechstimme. Gestures are extremely stylized, giving the actors an easy, automatic way to render the surging passions of the story; and symbolism, acrobatics (for fight scenes) and quite a bit of pure slapstick are mingled into the action, which is pure melodrama and quite complicated. (But easy to follow, since the actors often pause to explain it.)
A lot of fun with an occasional twinge of pure pathos, the show is highly recommended for the very adventurous. It is the first production in Studio's new theater (remodeled from a hot-dog warehouse) at 1404 Church St. NW, and augurs interesting things to come.