‘CHINGLISH’ TAKES A SMART VIEW OF PEOPLE WHO GET LOST IN LANGUAGE
EAST MEETS WEST IN THE LINGUISTIC DIVIDE. DAVID HENRY HWANG BRINGS THIS COMEDY THE PERFECT MIXED MESSAGES
A simple sign on the lawn outside a Chinese business park “Don’t walk on the Lawn” translated means “How can you put your step on the Green Grass” or “Beware of Missing Foot”. Tony award winning David Henry Hwang takes on the classic humor of English and Chinese translation, that for some is almost an impossible task. Plethos Productions based out of Castro Valley Ca. closes their 4th season with an excellent production of CHINGLISH. More than 200 languages are spoken in and around China. If an American tries to make a sale there, understanding at least one of the languages can help them avoid many misunderstandings.
Artistic Director and Founder of Plethos Karin Richey says “Chinglish both celebrates the uniqueness of Chinese culture, as well as expresses human experiences which unite us all. It's a show in which many here in the Bay Area will see themselves, their family members, their homes, and their experiences, while others will get to learn about and dive into a world they've never encountered before. Our hope is that in our upcoming 5th season and beyond, we will continue to produce shows like Chinglish, which accurately represent our beautifully diverse community". The two hour play is directed by Wynne Chan she says “working with this cast was wonderful, they each brought their own personal ties to China, this is bilingual and you don’t see that often in American Theatre”. Plethos Productions headed by Richey brings this very funny fast moving CHINGLISH to the Douglas Morrison stage.
This Hwang comedy is now streaming through November 14th on broadwayondemand.com or plethos.org. This is Hwang's best work since M. Butterfly. He mixes this story with Chinese and English interpretations that are hilarious and make for a brilliant business tale. CLINGLISH is the story about a blundering American businessman who lands into a language war as he tries to do business in China as an American sign magnate. The story gets much of its humor, and clever drama, from the confusion that arises for a naïve Cleveland sign-company owner Daniel played by the marvelous Will Livingston who fails to do either.
Behind this well written mash-up of Chinese and American vulnerability, this comedy takes a smart view of people who get lost in language. The play is framed by an opening and closing monologue from Daniel talking to the Commerce League, pointing out some signage of Chinese and English signs that show how mangled and funny they are. The story then flashbacks three years earlier as Cavanaugh first meets to pitch his Chinese-to-English sign company. Livingston is perfect in this part and brings his confusion of the Chinese verbiage in his body language and performance on stage.
Daniel relies on his British interpreter Peter, played by the outstanding Anthony P. Cardoza 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 to. The provincial vice minister Xi Yan played by the flawless Lan Zhong is the perfect example of the clueless language barrier the story explores.
Daniel stumbles into an affair with her that is as entertaining as the misinterpretations of their sexplay becomes a comedy of sexual misfires. Minister Cai, played by the authentic Xun Zhang, is in the mix attempting to hold off the transaction and makes a government tie to the story. He assures the local cultural minister that his products will not be awkward or misleading “Chinglish” signs seen in urban China. Americans may laugh at such mangled postings as “Wash After Release” posted in a women’s restroom. Very funny but the Chinese find such snafus humiliating. Both Zhang and Zhong, two actors originally from China, play their roles speaking mandarin and it is a beautiful language.
Bingcong Zhu, Skyler Riordan and local favorite Byron Guo, fill out the rest of the roles in this talented cast. The designers’ of this production feed us subtitles when needed. Chan and Richey designed this show to move fast and their timing is perfect as the story moves in and out of offices, restaurants, conference rooms and the perfect bedroom. Richey's set design depicts a China both traditional and elegant, highlighted by the lighted hotel room wall design. The Costumes by Kathleen Qiu are also at times traditional and very modern sleek and the women in perfect Asian similar to the look I first saw at the Berkeley Rep in 2011. Videographer and Director of Photography Ben Stevens mounted the difficult task of shooting this production, adding the perfect audio and background sounds including the yummy restaurant scene.
Questions of cultural identity when East meets West are a theme in many of Hwang's plays, from “M. Butterfly”, “Yellow Face” and his many other works. They become timely in a global arch's where old adversaries attempt to become new allies. Some have called David Henry Hwang the Asian Woody Allen, and in this mosh pit of language and pillow talk, I agree. I found each confrontation with the East and West colliding the perfect subtext that in the end is a love story. This is all entertaining and funnier in the brash dialect of CLINGLISH. I recommend this fall play and Plethos Productions has a polished entertaining production. The opening weekend screening audience at Castro Valleys Chabot Movie Theatre was a giggle fest. CHINGLISH runs through November 14th - Streaming details below -
Plethos Productions presents
By David Henry Hwang
Directed by Wyanne Chan
Assistant Director Karin Richey
Will Livingston, Lan Zhong, Anthony P. Cardoza. Xun Zhang, Byron Guo
Skyler Riordan and Bingcong Zhu
Tickets are 15.00.
This show was professionally filmed live onstage at the Douglas Morrisson Theatre in Hayward.
Streaming on demand through November 14.
https://www.broadwayondemand.com/ or plethos.org
Photography by Ben Stevens and Karin Richey
CAST INTERVIEWS - GO SEE A SHOW
LIVE SHOT MEET THE CAST WITH AD KARIN RICHEY