By Kenneth Jones
16 Jan 2012
|Photo by Michael McCabe|
The play began previews Oct. 11 and opened Oct. 27 at the Longacre Theatre. By close, it will have played 128 performances. The starless production, performed in English and Mandarin (with projected English supertitles), had struggled at the box office.
Chinglish arrived on Broadway following a summer world premiere at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, where the play was embraced by critics. Hwang's play won the coveted Chicago Jeff Award in the category of New Work. Much of its original cast remained intact for Broadway, including Jennifer Lim as an eager Chinese government official and Stephen Pucci as a British interpreter.
Gary Wilmes, who appeared in the Australian premiere of August: Osage County with members of the original Broadway cast and was seen as Tom Buchanan in Gatz at the Public Theater, made his Broadway debut as Midwestern American businessman Dan. (James Waterston originated the role in the Goodman production.)
Chinglish is directed by Obie Award winner Leigh Silverman (Well, In the Wake). Hwang won the Tony Award for Best Play for his M. Butterfly, his arrestingly theatrical earlier play about Western misunderstanding of Asian culture.
The critical reception was mixed to positive. "Hwang has built a bilingual farce about mistranslation that explores the cultural differences between China and America using two languages, and then layered a love story on top of it to illustrate the divide," said AP. "This is fresh, energetic and unlike anything else on Broadway." The Chicago Tribune wrote "that Americans and Chinese are doomed to misunderstand each other because of their semiotic incompatibilities — only takes the show so far...But it's the new power structure bubbling below the jokes, Hwang's savvy sense of the evolution in the tools of Chinese seduction and in the nature of Western vulnerability, that gives the show its restless undercurrent."
According to the producers, "Chinglish is the new comedy about the misadventures of miscommunication. It is the story of an American businessman desperate to launch a new enterprise in China. There are only three things standing in his way: He can't speak the language. He can't learn the customs. And he's falling in love with the one woman he absolutely can't have."
Hwang told Playbill magazine that Chinglish deals with "the difficulties of communication, in terms of language and the way different cultures look at the world."
Everyone in the play "is trying hard to communicate," he explained. "Yet there are things we consider universal values, ways of looking at the world, which aren't necessarily the case, which can change culturally. In our culture you're supposed to find someone you love and stay in love, and that's not necessarily true in other cultures."
Hwang's other works for the stage include Golden Child (1998 Tony Award nomination, 1997 Obie Award), Yellow Face (2008 Obie Award, 2008 Pulitzer Prize finalist), FOB (1981 Obie Award), The Dance and the Railroad (1982 Drama Desk Award nomination), Family Devotions (1982 Drama Desk Award nomination) and Bondage. He wrote the books for the Broadway musicals Aida (co-author), Rodgers & Hammerstein's revised Flower Drum Song (revival, 2002 Tony Award nomination) and Disney's Tarzan. In opera, his libretti include four works with composer Philip Glass as well as Osvaldo Golijov's Ainadamar (two 2007 Grammy Awards), Unsuk Chin's Alice in Wonderland (Opernwelt 2007 "World Premiere of the Year") and Howard Shore's The Fly. Hwang penned the feature films "M. Butterfly," "Golden Gate" and "Possession" (co-author) and co-wrote the song "Solo" with Prince.
View highlights from Chinglish:
Wilmes received an Obie Award for his performance in Adam Rapp's Red Light Winter. Also in New York, he has worked with the Wooster Group, the New York City Players and Richard Foreman.
Lim's work in New York includes Ching Chong Chinaman (Pan Asian Rep), Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven (HERE Arts Center/international tour), Vengeance Can Wait (P.S. 122) and Richard Schechner's YokastaS Redux (La MaMa).
The design team includes set designer David Korins (Lombardi, Passing Strange), costume designer Anita Yavich (Anna in the Tropics) and lighting designer Brian MacDevitt (The Book of Mormon, Fences, Goodman's Long Day's Journey into Night).
The Broadway production is produced by Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel Jay & Cindy Gutterman/Cathy Chernoff, Heni Koenigsberg/Lily Fan, Dasha Epstein, Ronald Frankel, Barry & Carole Kaye, Mary Lu Roffe, Hunter Arnold, Filerman Bensinger, The Broadway Consortium, Ken Davenport, Joe & Matt Deitch, Herbert Goldsmith, Jam Theatricals, Olympus Theatricals, Playful Productions, David & Barbara Stoller.
For tickets, visit Telecharge.com or call (212) 239-6200. Visit the show's official website, chinglishbroadway.com.