Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Chinglish: New Broadway Comedy Is Unique
Playwright David Henry Hwang talks about the new Brodway show, Chinglish.
For better or worse, Broadway today is largely driven by money, stars and spectacle.
The cost of mounting a Broadway production is so high that producers and investors are reluctant to get behind a production that does not have one of these seemingly guaranteed elements.
That's why we see so many star vehicles, high-tech productions and revivals on Broadway. Backers want a sure thing and audiences have been conditioned to expect this.
But now along comes a truly refreshing production -- a brand new show with no gimmicks and no obvious star names above the title. This is an original comedy -- smart, relevant and thought provoking.
And it really is laugh-out-loud funny.
It's called Chinglish and it comes to us from Tony award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang, director Leigh Silverman and the producers of August: Osage County.
Though the show is as current as today's headlines, it surely won't leave you dispirited. Instead, you will laugh at universal traits, think about the shrinking world we inhabit and smile in recognition.
But here's the important thing: Chinglish won't insult your intelligence. Hours later, you'll find yourself pondering some of the meanings and nuances behind the laughs.
What is Chingish?
Literally, it's the combination of fractured English and chopped-up Chinese that Americans and Chinese often use when they try to communicate with one another. So the show is about the misadventures of miscommunication. And the miscommunication frequently occurs because there simply are no appropriate English words for characters in the Chinese "alphabet" and no matching characters for the English words and phrases. In short, it's a jumble.
Now, put that together with China's emerging role as w world power and the increasing cooperation between our two countries and you've got the makings of Chinglish.
Lest you think the show is just one big lesson though, be assured that there's a poignant and sexy story here as well. It involves the misadventures of an American businessman desperate to launch a new enterprise in China. But there are a few things standing in his way: He can't speak the language. He can't learn the customs. And he's falling in love with a woman that he simply can't have.
The story is told in English and Mandarin with ingeniously incorporated subtitles.
The dialogue is quick, sharp and sassy. Leigh Silverman's direction is snappy, sensitive and informed. The sets by David Korins are sleek, efficient and cleverly functional. And Jennifer Lim and Gary Wilmes are wonderful in the lead roles as Daniel Cavanaugh and Xi Yan, two presumably disparate souls somehow thrust together in a cross-cultural romance. What's more, the whole ensemble (Angela Lin, Christine Lin, Johnny Wu, Larry Lei Zhang and particularly Stephen Pucci) are all terrific. This is an international cast and it is a great joy to watch these actors working together in what is really a global production.
Yes, at times the play seems to all but assume that China is ascending while America is in decline. But playwright Hwang (an American of Chinese ancestry) rightly notes that "the world looks on, with both admiration and anxiety, as China stands on the brink of surpassing the U.S. as the world’s largest economy."
Amidst the "anxiety" part of the equation Chinglish invites Americans to take a step back and look at ourselves and the Chinese as we are: people with language, cultural and societal differences but people nonetheless -- people with hopes and fears; people with needs, dreams and passions and people who can laugh at (and with) one another as we recognize our own human foibles.
Not since Pacific Overtures in 1976 has a Broadway show so perceptively examined east/west relations.
Go see Chinglish!