Producer Dasha Epstein Cooks Up Promotional Idea for Broadway's Chinglish

By Andrew Gans
28 Nov 2011

Dasha Epstein, one of the producers of David Henry Hwang's Chinglish, which is currently playing Broadway's Longacre Theatre, awoke one recent evening at 2 AM with an idea to promote the acclaimed new comedy about an Ohio businessman navigating misunderstandings of language and etiquette on an important business trip to China.



"I went to the internet and I looked up 'fortune cookie manufacturer in New York City,'" the Tony-winning producer of Ain't Misbehavin'; "MASTER HAROLD"...and the boys; and Same Time, Next Year told Playbill.com. "I found out it's in Brooklyn on Moore Street [and called] Wonton Inc., and they are the largest manufacturers of fortune cookies and noodles. I went down there and I said, 'I'd like to speak to the president.' I had taken the Chinese reviews from [the play's out-of-town engagement in] Chicago, which were spectacular, thinking the head of the company might be Chinese, and indeed he was. He came down and said, 'What can I do for you?' And, I said, 'I would like you to be part of this show. I would like to have fortune cookies, and I would like to have inserted as a fortune: "Chinglish,  Aha! A funny timely Broadway play" and on the other side, "Call Telecharge" and the telephone number.' Nobody had ever done that before, and he looked at me and said, 'That's a very good idea! I will pass those out in every Chinese restaurant,' and I said that we will get people to pass them out in Times Square and the Broadway area..."

Donald Lau agreed to produce 5,000 fortune cookies, and "we have delivered lots of them to people all over the city, and now we're putting them with our flyer, and they've become something to talk about," Epstein added.

It's been an uphill climb, however, for the newest work from the author of the award-winning M. Butterfly. The box office for the past two weeks has grossed 45.4 percent and 37.0 percent of capacity, respectively. "It is very, very hard to get any kind of advance sale unless you have a star," Epstein said.

For the veteran producer, though, it is obvious that the play is the thing. "When [I first heard] this play," Epstein explained, "I thought, 'Finally, here's a play that's such a wonderful play. It has humor, it has intelligence. It's very timely.' I said, 'I'm in love with it. I love the play.' And, I thought it had all the elements that I look for in a play, and so I said to [playwright] David [Henry Hwang] and to [producers] Jeffrey Richard and Jerry Frankel, 'I'd like to come on board and I would really like to be a co-producer on this play.' I think it's excellent, and that's something for me to say because I really haven't worked on Broadway for a while.... And, so we played in Chicago, and then we came and we opened in New York, and we went to the Shuberts and the Shuberts gave us the Longacre Theatre, which is wonderful because it's all redone—brand new... We opened, and I was thrilled. The audience was roaring with approval, and we've had very, very wonderful audiences. The play has been motivated mainly by word-of-mouth, which is a very important element in the theatre."

View highlights from Chinglish:

 

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.