Hua-yen Sutra

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2007, 12:00am

Hua-yen Sutra

Zuni Icosahedron

Cultural Centre Grand Theatre

Reviewed: June 9

It attracted a new, gag-loving generation with the acerbic East Wing West Wing satires, and converted aficionados of Chinese operas to its cause with Meeting of the Gods. And from the looks of the audience at the first night of its latest venture, Hua-yen Sutra, Zuni Icosahedron has succeeded in attracting yet another demographic: middle-aged Buddhists.

On paper, Hua-yen Sutra has all the makings of an innovative crowd-puller. With the blessing of Hong Kong's most senior Buddhist venerables, artistic director Mathias Woo Yun-wai promises to transform one of the most important Buddhist sutras into a 'life insight theatre' that will realise the spirit and splendour of the Avatamsaka realm.

Luckily for him, most of Saturday night's audience was new to Zuni, because Hua-yen Sutra recycles more than a few past productions.

The first two acts were plain sailing - four actors recited vast texts that could serve as a primer to the sutra, such as how phenomena are constructions of the mind, and the concept of 'dependent origination' - or how everything happens for a reason. And in this production, everything does - often with roots in the epic spatial experiments Woo has perfected during the past few years.

In the third act, the multimedia evocation of the Avatamasaka realm, using a stage full of images and statues of the Buddha, seemed too straightforward for a sutra that denies the absoluteness of a higher truth. It then moved on to an even more awkward imagining: a space filled with rising and falling black monoliths - a visual backdrop that originated in Woo's 2001: A Hong Kong Odyssey.

Woo's efforts to take on new topics is commendable, but his Hua-yen Sutra remains too shackled to his past aesthetic to be a liberating experience for the mind.

HK$120-HK$380 Urbtix. Ends Jun 17