Imagine that an old friend, an affable laid back teacher invites you over to talk about his one year trip to China months before the Tiananmen Square incident in 1988. I think you would expect some exciting insights as to what caused the Chinese students to revolt so dramatically and at least a couple of photos.
In Gary Moore’s “Burning in China” a solo autobiographical monologue about his one year trip to China with his wife Susan, starring Jeff LeBeau as Mr. Moore – which is part of the Fringe Festival NYC at the 4th Street Theatre – you get an affable laid back account of his teaching stint at a Chinese University, his difficulty in communicating with his students afraid of making errors, his attraction to the Chinese females in his class and in general, his mounting of an original “Rap Opera” – a combination of Abe Lincoln and the Monkey King, and an introductory video of smog, tons of bicycles and people doing Tai Chi on a large video screen that is unfortunately never put to use again.
Considering that “Burning in China” is directed by five-time Oscar nominated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, it is surprising to say the least. Pictures are worth a thousand words – and they would have helped alleviate some of the tedium that begins to set in.
It is about half way through when things begin to get interesting as he speaks to some Chinese guys about sex and penis size – in hushed tones – of course. But hushed tones in a theatre, even one as intimate as The 4th Street Theatre do not work. One needs to hear what is being said. Despite the affable and laid back performance of Mr. LeBeau who started to look more and more like Ryan O’Neal, many important lines went whispered and were lost.
The bi-lingual Rap Opera does enliven the monologue and give Mr. LeBeau a chance to break loose, showing Mr. Moore’s breakthrough in communicating with his students and their desire for emancipation and democracy that led to them skipping classes and demonstrating for freedom that lead to Tiananmen Square which in turn led to Mr. Moore leaving China early and in documenting his experiences which in turn led to “Burning in China” at the Fringe.