Oscar E Moore

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Ch’ing-lish – An American in China with twisted translations

November 27th, 2011 by Oscar E Moore

There are thousands of Chinese characters used for writing.  They are complicated.  And that is not the only thing complicated about the Chinese.  In David Henry Hwang latest culture clash play Ch’ing-lish, now playing at the Longacre Theatre on West 48th Street you will have ample opportunity to discover what it is like to try to do business with them on their turf if that event should ever happen to you.

As the main character, Daniel Cavanaugh (Gary Wilmes) your average mild mannered, unhappily married, struggling with his sign business based in Cleveland and now trying to jump start his career in Guiyang China by landing a contract with Minister Cai Guoliang (Larry Lei Zhang) to do the signage for the new Center For The Performing Arts that has been already promised to his sister-in-law, with the help of a very necessary translator Peter Timms (Stephen Pucci) your not so average teacher from Britain has been living in China for 19 years and is now a consultant whom the Minister owes a favor and running into language difficulties, government restrictions and the Minister’s right hand “Iron Lady” Xi Yan ( an excellent Jennifer Lim) a married to a Judge (Johnny Wu) woman who will make whatever sacrifices necessary for success – you have the basic plot of Ch’ing-lish. 

If all this sounds dull.  It isn’t.  Only sometimes.  But when the translations (Jeff Sugg & Shawn Duan) hit the walls of the double turntable Chinese puzzle like set by David Korins you will be highly entertained with the mangled humor. 

When the actors revert to verbal charades – smiling and giggling in true stereotypical fashion you will also be amused.  But I found myself growing impatient until one surprise after another sets the plot in motion and the laughter growing.

But underneath all the laughter, there lies the serious matter of truth and honesty for both the American and his Chinese counterparts which aren’t fully realized until the end of the production.  We are more alike than we realize.

There are a couple of clandestine bedroom trysts with Daniel and Xi Yan – sex being the universal equalizer when words fail which further shows the differences in how the two cultures deal with sex and love.  And then there are more revelations that occur that make us realize that all is not what it seems to be – whether in Mandarin or English.

It’s an entertaining and different evening of theatre that makes you work to understand what is happening and gives fresh insight to the phrase “building a relationship.”

The actors are all first rate, with Angela Lin and Christine Lin turning in additional comic relief in cameo parts.

Leigh Silverman has fluently directed this bi-lingual cast.

www.chinglishbroadway.com   Photo:  Michael McCabe

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