Let’s face it… I’m not a New Yorker. When I got off the plane, I was already trembling on the Air Train. How would I get to my friend’s place in Chelsea? Well, somehow with the directions from my iPhone I got there. I have rarely had a good experience with New York since college. I got into a fight or broke up with almost every one of my boyfriends there. But I came again because I really needed to see David Henry Hwang’s new play, Chinglish. And my mission for the day was to pick up the opening tickets at the Longacre Theater and go to a hip-hop class. With courage, I did both.
Timely, smart and totally hilarious, Chinglish rewrote New York for me, just like it will rewrite the relationship between China and America and inform and entertain those who have inklings of doing anything in China. Very much like his own smash hit M Butterfly, it’s a comedic critique of the dysfunctional relationship between the East and West. In M Butterfly, it’s sexuality and gender roles. In Chinglish, it’s aptly language and translation.
Chinglish is about a loser American businessman going to China to do business and ends up with unexpected and hilarious results—and love… kind of. It’s truly a companion piece to M Butterfly. The misinterpretation of gender and language each wields quite a different genre and ending—tragedy and comedy.
Like a filmmaker bumpkin going to his first Broadway opening, I totally identify with the protagonist Daniel Cavanaugh going to do business in China for the first time. That really speaks to the talent of David who puts our unassuming Western white male on the spot for critique while also making him our common man and our own perspective.
David makes a hilarious comedy out of critiquing our own perspective and subjectivity. Do you know how hard that is? Do you know how avant-garde that is? While David Cronenberg does exactly that in cinema, David Henry Hwang does it in theater, his self-made genre quite unique to himself who is both a translator and critique of the East and the West.
Salman Rushdie writes in the preface of his novel Shame, “Having been borne across the world, we are translated men” Like Rushdie who’s a “translated man,” David brings a new perspective to being American, Asian and Asian American.
Do I have a crystal ball?
Can I predict how well this play will do?
But I can say that Chinglish is a good gauge of America’s current interest in China. Its commercial viability will be dependent on how much popular interest America has in China at the moment. But without a doubt nobody has done it better than David Henry Hwang, who has written truth out of both cultures while playfully making fun of them both.
Comedy can be honest and truthful, yet intelligent and ruthless.