Yale Vermillion Theater to debut “White Rose, Red Rose”
The play, a love story written in Chinese, is premiering its first-ever bilingual version this week through the Yale Vermilion Theater.
Courtesy of Melody Li
The first bilingual production of “White Rose, Red Rose” will debut with the Yale Vermillion Theater, which produces bilingual Chinese plays, this Thursday.
The play is directed by graduate student Wisteria Deng GRD ’26 and will be performed on 205 Park Street from April 27 to April 30. “Red Rose, White Rose” is an adaptation of a love story written by the Chinese female author Eileen Chang and adapted by the Chinese writer and director Tian Qinxin. The play follows the story of two women, the “Red Rose” and the “White Rose,” who are living in the patriarchal society of 1930s Shanghai. It explores the clash of traditional Western and Eastern values and tensions that arise between characters, grappling with conflicting ideals of what family and marriage should mean.
“It’s about people trying to survive in a society that’s extremely restrictive and extremely limiting,” said Deng.
Deng told the News she feels that the play’s themes are especially relevant today, as progression and regression on women’s issues happen simultaneously. She explained that the play portrays how different people cope with choosing between family, career and love.
In a choice unique to this production, Deng decided to have each of the three main characters — White Rose, Red Rose, and the protagonist — played by two different actors. This approach, Deng explained, separates the “inner” and “outer” selves of the characters, allowing the audience to see how the characters’ inner selves evolve over time. These selves, Deng said, become more reserved, passionate or genuine as the play progresses.
“The play is about values clashing, it’s about a person’s ideal self clashing with the harsh truth,” Deng said. “It’s about a person’s imagination of what a family is made of, what a marriage means, clashing with how society rules the family.”
The play will be performed in a lecture hall and auditorium, rather than a professional stage. The creative team is constructing two different homes on stage to represent the residences of the Red Rose and White Rose. Traditional costumes and props, paired with “nostalgic tunes,” will add to the play’s atmosphere, according to Deng.
Jessy Li, a New York-based software developer, will be playing the role of Red Rose in the upcoming show. According to Li, Red Rose is a “complex character” who embodies many of the themes and conflicts of the novel, including love, desire, tradition and modernity.
Li said she was drawn to the role because she identifies with the character’s struggles and has “empathy” for her. To prepare for the role, Li read the novel and watched both a recording of the original play and its film adaptation. Li also worked with a private tutor to perfect her Chinese pronunciation and refine her posture to better embody the character physically.
The most challenging aspect of portraying Red Rose, Li told the News, has been capturing the character’s expressive body movements. Li said this is because she herself is naturally more introverted in her own movements, unlike the character.
Xingyi Zhang SOM ’23 is playing the alternate Red Rose. This will be Zhang’s second performance with Yale Vermillion Theater after acting in their fall show “No Exit.”
According to Zhang, her participation in the fall show last year provided her with an opportunity to connect with several people involved in theater at Yale and expand her network within the community. This network, she said, led her to audition for Red Rose in the upcoming production.
Zhang also said she was drawn to the role because of her love for “bad women” in literature who challenge traditional norms. This, she said, made the Red Rose character a perfect fit for her. She describes the character as “sexy, but not pushy or vulgar,” which presented a unique challenge in attempting to strike “the right balance.”
Haoyu Tang GRD ’24 is the president of Yale Vermillion Theater and plays the role of Zhenbao Tong in the play. According to Tang, the biggest challenge with this year’s performance was the short time frame for production. They launched the play in less than two months — from recruitment interviews to the actual performance — leaving only one month for rehearsals. This was half the usual time dedicated to the theater group’s productions, Tang said.
“The story makes the audience reflect on their own true selves, including their selfish and greedy tendencies, creating a unique and thought-provoking experience,” said Tang.
Crystal Liu ’25, the head of outreach for the Yale Vermillion Theater, said the show received funding from the University Graduate and Professional Students Senate, as well as some local restaurants like Tai Chi Tea.
Tickets for the production can be reserved online.