December 4, 2011


If I were independently wealthy, I would just travel the world. Travel enriches one's life. While respectful of local customs and cultural differences, my sisters and I have always found humor in lost-in-translation signage. Foreign airports alone provide opportunities to photograph unintentionally yet hysterically funny signs. So it was refreshing to see David Hwang's new play on the cultural divide, Ching-lish, arrive on Broadway. Mike and I recently went to see it.

It stars Gary Wilmes as Daniel Cavanaugh, an Ohio businessman trying to start a sign business in China. He hires British expat Peter (Stephen Pucci) to translate and guide him through the complex Chinese bureaucracy and culture. They meet with the Guiyang Minister Cai (Larry Lei Zhang) and his alluring and standoffish Vice Minister Xi Yan (an excellent and enthralling Jennifer Lim). Most of the jokes about wrong translations are in the first act, during these business meetings. And they are pretty laugh-out-loud funny, due to the efforts of Angela Lin and to a lesser degree, Johnny Wu. When Madame Xi begins to inexplicably assist the American, more entanglements, confusion, and disagreements arise.
I was expecting plenty of hilarious misunderstandings, culture clashes, and hoped for some commentary on Chinese-American business relations, given China's current global status. The second act changes in tone as real motives and intentions are revealed. The bite is in the end. While the beautiful revolving sets help move the story along, it probably would have worked better as a one act play. Especially since only the two leads are fully fleshed out characters, specifically Madame Xi. The story ends on a surprisingly cynical note. No matter what language one speaks, money, power, greed, and ambition are universal.


Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...