a comedy about different interpretations of the human heart
set in China and performed in English and Mandarin with subtitles
“It’s a contradiction of everything we’ve come to know in the modern era. It might work in practice, but does it work in theory?” —Dr. John Floyer
Meet John Floyer, eccentric, dyspeptic, and idealistic–sometimes to the point of delusion. His work to date, A History of Cold Bathing, Both Ancient and Modern hasn’t won him much renown, so he’s off to China to make his name. There, he “discovers” pulse diagnosis–nevermind the Chinese have known about it for centuries.
Floyer doesn’t fully understand the practice, but he’s willing to publish it–especially if can cement his place in the Academy of Sciences and keeps his creditors from repossessing his bathing tub. Along with him is his wife, Charlotte, a whip-smart woman with no outlet for her passions–until she meets her husband’s Chinese translator Wang Ming. Soon everyone’s trying to sort out new interpretations of the human heart…
The Subtle Body is an historical comedy with contemporary resonance. It tells the story of 18th-century British doctor John Floyer and his wife, Charlotte, who travel to China to research Chinese medicine. In China, Floyer encounters Dr. Zhang, a doctor successfully performing the traditional Chinese medical practice of pulse-diagnosis. In pulse-diagnosis not one, but six pulses are felt in the wrist to diagnose illnesses as complex as liver cirrhosis and cancer. Floyer is at a loss to prove how the Chinese practice works using Western reasoning and the scientific method; as far as he’s concerned, there’s only one pulse, and it comes from the heart.
Meanwhile, his wife Charlotte must also confront a new interpretation of the human heart. During the course of her husband’s research, she falls in love with his Chinese translator, Wang Ming. When the already married Ming asks Charlotte to join his household as his second wife (an accepted tradition in historic China), she is forced to reconsider her views of love and marriage, and come to a deeper understanding of her culture and herself. The play follows the couple’s attempts to reconcile these conflicts, and how one of them eventually fails, and one succeeds.
The Subtle Body explores how we create links and bridges with other cultures and whether we can ever truly move beyond our own culture to understand another. With rapid globalization and the explosive economic development of China, the Western and the Eastern historical ways of seeing the world offer not just points of contrast, but opportunities for mutual collaboration and growth. But such opportunities require self-knowledge, trust, and the willingness to understand one another. The Subtle Body considers these contemporary necessities through a historical comedy.
The Subtle Body premiered at the curated Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre’s ACT Festival in November 2013 sponsored by a TCG Global Connections grant. It played to packed houses and was lauded in a special news report on Shanghai television (link below).
) The play is a 2014 semifinalist for the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. Shanghai performances were accompanied by audience talkbacks and an expert panel on the contemporary practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In early stages of development, The Subtle Body, benefited from the generous support in the form of staged readings, residencies and performances at Jack; Dixon Place; and NACL Theatre’s Deep Space Residency.
Written by Megan Campisi
Directed by Michael Leibenluft
Performed by Ya Han Chang, Stephanie Wright Thompson*, Johnny Wu*, Michael Zlabinger*
Stage Manager Lizzie Robinson*
Set design by Cate McCrea
Costume design by Isabelle Coler
Sound design by Eric Sluyter
Light design by Mary Ellen Stebbins
Translations by Grant Zhong
Casting by Cindi Rush
Photo credits: Erik Carter
*Denotes member AEA.
Runtime 90 minutes.
Selected Bibliography of John Floyer:
Psychrolousia. Or, the History of Cold Bathing: Both Ancient and Modern. in Two Parts. the First, Written by Sir John Floyer, … the Second, Treating … Cold Baths. … by Dr. Edward Baynard. Nabu Press, 2010.
The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine, By Shigehisa Kuriyama. Zone Books, 1999.
A Brief History of Medicine: From Hippocrates’ Four Humours to Crick and Watson’s Double Helix, by Paul Strathern. Carroll and Graf. 2005.
In memory of Miss Meng Zhang, a good friend and a professional TCM medical worker. 特别鸣谢：纪念张檬小姐，一位好友，一名专业的中医药工作者.
The Subtle Body was made possible through generous support from: NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, Brooklyn Arts Council, Dixon Place, Mud/Bone Collective, a TCG Global Connections grant and The Nacl Theatre Deep Space Performance Program.
Gold No Trade wishes to thank the TDF Costume Collection for its assistance in this production.