The Peccadillo Theater Company and the Yangtze Repertory Theatre will venture into the world of 1920s melodrama this fall when they combine forces to resurrect John Colton's exotic and one-time controversial potboiler, The Shanghai Gesture.
The production, directed by Peccadillo's artistic director Dan Wackerman, will run Oct. 24-Nov. 17 at the Bank Street Theatre.
The Shanghai Gesture bowed on Broadway in 1926. The story, about the most notorious brothel in China and its imperious madame — a sort of inverse Madame Butterfly who goes by the tongue-in-cheek name of Mother Goddam — shocked and titillated audiences. The plot concerns the madame's elaborate scheme to get even with Guy Charteris, an Englishman who seduced and abandoned her years before to a life of abuse and prostitution.
The plot was steamy enough to rattle the censors, who demanded Colton cut the text's raciest sections. But even the cut version was stunning enough to result in a smash run on Broadway. Peccadillo will put the original "un-cut" version on stage for the first time. The company will not mine the drama for camp, but play it straight. The story's many politically incorrect aspects have been left intact. However, certain historical inaccuracies have been corrected.
The play was made into a memorably bad film directed by Joseph von Sternberg. The Hays Office, then filmdom's censor, forced the watering down of the plot. The brothel became a gambling hall and Mother Goddam was renamed Mother Gin Sling. Gene Tierney starred. In an odd side note, film legend Bette Davis stated in her autobiography, titled "Mother Goddam," that the lead role in The Shanghai Gesture was one she greatly coveted.
Jade Wu will play the ferocious madame Off-Broadway. Richard Bekins, who has appeared on Broadway in Tartuffe and Love! Valour! Compassion!, will be Charteris. Nick Bosco is decadent Prince Jai, who carts around the slumming young socialite Poppy. Brian Linden is Caesar Hawkins, a Brit whose debts force him to work in the whorehouse. Robert Lee Chu is Chinese dignitary Lin Chi and Jackson Ning is the madame's all knowing major domo, Koo Lot Foo. Also in the cast are Briana Davis and Janie Kelly.
John Colton is best known for co-writing the '20 most famous melodrama, Rain.
Tickets are $15. Call (212) 561-9635.
—By Robert Simonson