David Henry Hwang’s funny comedy “Chinglish” zings Language Blunders

June 16, 2015

 PALO ALTO PLAYERS PRESENT CHINGLISH - READ THE SIGNS

“How can you put your step on the Green Grass” the translation for “Don’t walk on the Lawn” warning sign. Tony award winning David Henry Hwang takes on the classic humor of English and Chinese translation, that for some is almost impossible. This is Hwang's best work since M. Butterfly. He mixes this story with chinese and english interpretations that are very funny and make for a brilliant business tail. CHINGLISH the story about a blundering American businessman who lands into a language war as he tries to do business in China as a Cleveland sign magnate

 

 

The Palo Alto Players brings this very funny fast moving CHINGLISH to their Lucie Stern stage. Directed by Lily Tung Crystal, she has first hand experience living and working in China and this is her directorial debut.  “Not only is the cast full of super talented actors,” Crystal explains, “but they’re also really talented linguists. Six of the seven speak Chinese! And all of them have a relationship with China, so they also understand the experience and the feeling of traveling and living there, which has really helped us paint a full picture of China that we can bring to the audience.”

 Behind this well written mash-up of Chinese and American vulnerability, this comedy takes an important view of people who get lost in language. The play is framed by an opening and closing monologue from American businessman Daniel Cavanaugh (Chris Mahle) talking to the Commerce League of Ohio, pointing out some silly signage of Chinese and English signs that show how mangled and funny inaccurate they are. The story then flashbacks three years earlier as Cavanaugh first meets to pitch his Chinese-to-English sign company. Mahle is perfect in this part and brings his confusion of the Chinese verbiage in his total body language on stage.

 Daniel relies on his British interpreter Peter (an outstanding Michael T. McCune) who has been in china for over 20 years and speaks great Chinese. Yet the meetings they encounter with Chinese business officials still fail with lost translations, that make these scenes some of the funniest to listen too. The provincial vice minister Xi Yan (Joyce F. Liu) is the perfect example of the clueless language barrier the play explores. Daniel stumbles into an affair with her that is as entertaining as the misinterpretations of their sexplay become a comedy of sexual blunders. Minister Cai (the talented Jeffrey Sun), is in the mix attempting to hold off the transaction and makes a government tie to the story. Dianna Hua Chung, Isabel Anne To, and local favorite Phil Wong, fill out the rest of the talented cast in various roles.

 The designers’ of this production feed us subtitles since most of the cast does not speak english. They are well handled by Isabella Phillips as the dialog moves fast and so do the subtitles. Crystal designed this show to move fast and her timing is perfect as the set moves in and out of offices, restaurants, conference rooms and the perfect bedroom. Kuo-Hao Lo set design depicts a China both traditional and elegant, on a clever turntable. The Costumes by Y. Sharon Peng are also at times tradition and very modern sleek and the women in perfect asian similar to the look I first saw at the Berkeley Rep in 2011. The sound design by Jeff Grafton is at times jazzy Oriental to  traditional and is fitting. Nick Kumamoto has some of his lighting design fixed to the rolling sets and since the stage is built up his touch has to be subtle to make sure we see and read all the subtitles from scene to scene.

Some have called David Henry Hwang the Asian Woody Allen, and in this mosh pit of language and pillow talk, I must agree. I found each confrontation with the East and West colliding, but this is all entertaining and funnier in the elaborate dialect of CHINGLISH.  I recommend this summer play and PAP has a polished entertaining production. The opening night sold out crowd was in giggle mode the whole evening, It runs through June 28th, 2015.

 

Palo Alto Players presents

CHINGLISH

By David Henry Hwang, Directed by Lily Tung Crystal

 

Shows are scheduled 7 p.m. Thursdays - 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 28, 2015

 The Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto Ca

Tickets are $31-$45.

For tickets and more information, call 329-0891

or visit paplayers.org

 

Photography is by Joyce Goldschmid

 

 

 

 

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