A Celebration of Chinglish

Life is filled with episodes of hilarious miscommunication, none of which are more comical than those that occur in the boardroom and bedroom.  Unfortunately when these real life scenarios transpire, the people involved do not have the brilliance of playwright David Henry Hwang to create side-splitting prose and provide subtitles for what is actually going on.  Fortunately for theatergoers, Hwang did exactly that with Chinglish – the best comedy to hit Broadway in an extremely long time. 

Chinglish explores the idea of being lost in translation through the eyes of businessman Daniel Cavanaugh, a ne’er do well entrepreneur running his family’s flailing signage company (and did I mentioned he worked for Enron).  He travels to a modest province in China with the hopes of acquiring a few contracts that would significantly revive his business and life.  But he soon learns that it is not only the language of Chinglish that is convoluted.  Chinglish commonly refers to mash-up of spoken and written English language that is interpreted from Chinese, often times very badly.  It is best exemplified in signs that grossly misconstrue Chinese symbols with English transcription.  During the course of his stay, Daniel realizes that like Chinglish, one thing often times means something else when it comes to navigating business and love in China.  But alls well that ends well, through a series of missteps Daniel learns about himself as well as how to maintain relationships, both professionally and personally.

Daniel’s initial journey in China is a comedy of errors, but this play is a comedy of triumphs!  Chinglish is spectacular – it is innovative, proactive, sophisticated and extremely entertaining.  The set design is as titillating as the play itself.  Reminiscent of a Rubik’s Cube, the set is an ever-changing moving background, constantly folding out of itself, creating awesome synchronicity with the events happening on stage.  The actors, the majority of whom are making their debut on the Great White Way, have the serendipitous fortune of using the wonderful script of David Hwang as a vehicle to introduce themselves to a Broadway stage.   Gary Wilmes, who plays Daniel Cavanaugh, excels at displaying American arrogance and naiveté when dealing with individuals from different cultures.  Jennifer Lim, who plays Xi Yan, is captivating; even when she is speaking in Chinese the audience will have a hard time looking away.  The most riotous lines are delivered by Stephen Pucci and Larry Lei Zhang who portray Peter Timms, the British teacher trying to pass as a consultant, and Minister Cai Guoliang, the quirky politician who is in charge of approving Cavanaugh’s proposal.

Although Chinglish is about miscommunication, it is right on time.   This play is primed for this millennium.  It transcends the themes explored on stage and becomes a microcosm for the current state of affairs between the US and China – two entities desperately trying to figure the other out, each step toward each other taken with great trepidation.  When discussing her initial reaction to the concept of Chinglish, director Leigh Silverman states, “It sounded like the most relevant, important play.”  David Henry Hwang describes the system of Chinglish to be a phenomenon; well I say Chinglish the play is a phenomenon also.  During a recent blogger meet and greet with Silverman and Hwang courtesy of Broadway’s Best Shows, Hwang admits, “The first time we had it read it was a lot of laughter and I realized that I written a comedy.”  And through laughter, the audience discovers that human nature is the same, no matter which continent one hails from.   Do not “Slip down and fall carefully,” do not gamble on missing this show, run to the Longacre Theatre and get tickets for this play.  Chinglish is a winner.  I smell another Tony win on the horizon for David Hwang.


Photos: Michael McCabe

Video courtesy of Broadway’s Best Shows

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