Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) just opened his latest play CHINGLISH in Chicago where it is having its world premiere at the historic Goodman Theater now-July 24. DHH has graciously agreed to blog regularly throughout the rehearsal process to give our readers a glimpse into how a major theatrical production comes to life. Today, the final blog from Chicago. Next up in the fall: New York and Broadway.
It’s been quite a week. Last Monday, June 27, was our Opening Night. Joanna & Ken ordered a 35-pound roast suckling pig, which they set up backstage in the wings. About 45 minutes before curtain time, Leigh and I rushed from a Western ritual for the Goodman’s patrons and special guests, to the Asian ritual, where Joanna handed me a stick of lit incense and told me to stick it into an orange. After eating some pork, we dashed back to the Western ceremony, where I gave a speech.
In many ways, Opening Nights are a cruel ritual. Why? Because the reviews, at least in New York (and I’ve now learned, in Chicago too), come out that same evening. YOMYOMF readers can probably recall scenes from old movies where critics rush from opening night to their typewriters and dash off reviews (like the famous one in CITIZEN KANE). Well, it’s not quite like that any longer. Nowadays, theatres designate one or more of the final preview performances as critics’ nights. This gives the reviewers more lead time to write their pieces. Ours was the previous evening, Sunday night. So by the time you arrive for opening, your fate is already sealed — you just don’t know what it is yet.
Opening Nights have also been changed by the internet. When I started out thirty years ago, your press agent would run down to the local newsstand or the offices of the New York TIMES and wait for the early edition of tomorrow’s paper to literally roll off the presses — usually around 11 pm. Nowadays, reviews start getting posted online soon as the curtain rises on the Opening Night performance, and anyone can read them on their devices.
Opening Nights are cruel because they should be about everyone who worked on a show celebrating what we created together. Instead, we’re all worried about the reviews. I’ve been to lots of Opening Night parties (including more than a few of my own) where people rush for the door in the wake of bad reviews, until there’s no one left at the “celebration.” Of course, if the opposite happens and you’ve got a hit on your hands, the party can really get started, but that’s a much rarer outcome.
This is why intoxicants were invented. I’ve never been a big drinker, but on Opening Nights, I feel it’s all medicinal — alcohol, nicotine, prescription drugs, recreational substances — whatever gets you through the night.
Denise, the Goodman’s Press Agent, asked me before the show how I wanted to hear about the reviews. I said I wanted them characterized: as a “rave” or “money” review, “mixed to positive,” “mixed to negative,” or worse. The TRIBUNE is generally considered the most important review in Chicago, and VARIETY is a big influence on the buzz that will reach New York.
I sit down with my family and Act One begins. It’s an excellent performance — well-paced, crisp, technically clean — and the audience is busting a gut. Intermission arrives, and I dash from my seat towards the stage door. On the way, Roche, the Goodman’s Executive Director, grabs my arm. “The TRIBUNE’s a rave. Four stars [out of four].” Denise adds, “A money review.”
Leigh and I find each other to share a celebratory hug. Filled with relief, we take our seats for Act Two, and actually enjoy the rest of the performance. Afterwards, the other major paper, the SUN-TIMES, as well as periodicals and blogs, are online. They’re all good to excellent. Bob, the Artistic Director of the Goodman, who’s away directing a show in Massachusetts, shoots me a text: “Congrats! It’s a f*cking hit!” [sans asterisk].
Now the party can really get started (photos courtesy of Angela Lin, beautiful in her purple dress).
The following morning, while on a Segway Tour of Chicago with my son, I get a text from Leigh: “VARIETY is a rave.” Around 2 pm CST, our New York producers announce that CHINGLISH will open on Broadway this fall.
Thanks to all of you who sent well-wishes our way. Between your support and the 35-pound pig, something went right! I’ll resume this blog when we start up again for Broadway, where, once more, anything could happen. We’re a big hit in Chicago, which is very satisfying. Thank you, Chicago! New York will be a whole ‘nuther horse race.