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A.R.T.’s ‘Wild Swans’ is a riveting account of contemporary China

“Wild Swans” is a visually stunning spectacle that gets more intriguing every time you revisit the experience.

“Wild Swans” is a visually stunning spectacle that gets more intriguing every time you revisit the experience.

And you will revisit it often, as the world-premiere stage adaptation of Jung Chang’s best-selling epic memoir is rife with potential dialogue about everything from its stellar production values to the evolution of life in contemporary China.

Spanning four decades and five acts, “Wild Swans” chronicles the lives of a mother, daughter and grandmother whose hopes and dreams are as volatile as the political climate of a country experiencing the Communist Revolution, Cultural Revolution and subsequent emergence into world power. All in a neatly-packaged, intermission-free 90-minutes that unfold in panoramic fashion.

Each scene change is impeccably orchestrated by workers (actors) who move set pieces, shovel dirt and engineer a revolution with an ideological mob mentality that many clung to until it was too late.

It would have been easy to cash in on marquee value for this co-production of the A.R.T., London’s Young Vic Theatre and Actors’ Touring Company. Katie Leung, who plays Er-Hong, was Harry’s first love interest in a little film franchise called “Harry Potter.” But Leung, like everyone and everything else in this grand scale production, is just another essential moving part in the story.

At times it feels like there’s a bit of an emotional disconnect between the audience and the characters that might look like an acting misstep. But it feels more deliberate than accidental and could actually be an intentional cultural manifestation. Form your own opinion.

One of the best things about “Wild Swans” is that it leaves so many things open for thoughtful analysis and potential discussion that you’ll certainly run out of time long before you’ll run out of postshow dialogue.

Plot points

“Wild Swans” is adapted from Jung Chang’s 1991 memoir which chronicles the lives of Chang, her mother and grandmother as they navigate their way through the rise and fall of Mao Zedong’s regime. Family loyalty and political beliefs clash as they grapple with poverty, home invasions, death and the fallout from cultural revolution.