David Henry Hwang continues his weekly report from rehearsals of the Broadway premiere of his new play CHINGLISH.
1. The laughs are all still there, becoming more solid and powerful over our first eight performances, as the actors’ performances get tighter and more focused.
2. The show seems to be playing more emotionally than it did in Chicago. Audiences are getting into the love story, following its twists and turns. As a result, the play’s surface comedy and its deeper underlying issues feel more balanced, perhaps giving the evening a little more gravitas.
3. We can still make the play a little tighter, and button the ending a bit more clearly.
There’s a Broadway tradition of asking colleagues you trust to give notes at this point in the process: when you’re doing your final fixes before “freezing” the show. The great American playwright Neil Simon was nicknamed “Doc Simon” for his skill at diagnosing a play. Of course, if you feel your show is in trouble, you might bring in help earlier. But we’re feeling good about our progress, so are just covering our bases for some final nips and tucks.
Our colleagues have been uniformly enthusiastic, which is of course encouraging. But when I say, “You know, I’m still trying to get the ending to pop,” more than one replied with something like, “Now that you mention it, it took me a second to realize the play was over.”
So I’ve been working on that last sentence. Yesterday, on our day off, I came up with a slightly different ending. I sent the revision to Leigh, who was excited to try it. I also made some tiny cuts at various points in the show, to tighten it further. We’ll rehearse all the changes this afternoon, and try them in front of an audience tonight.
This is what previews are for. To learn from the audience, revise based on those findings, then try out the changes on the following night’s audience. It’s intense and tiring, but critical to making theatre. Well, at least in the US and England. On the European continent and throughout much of Asia, plays often don’t preview, they just open. Sometimes the playwright just turns in his or her play, and shows up on opening night! But I think of the audience as the final collaborator in the creation of a play, and I really love this part of the process. It’s very hard work, but very rewarding.
This first week of previews has been a joy. It’s been exciting to finally get our play up before a Broadway audience, to hear their laughter and feel their enthusiastic ovations. We’ve gotten big cheers, particularly for our leads, Jennifer and Gary. The audience seems happy, reinforced by data that our ticket sales are building. This makes us hopeful that the word of mouth is good. Ultimately, though reviews are important on Broadway, a show lives or dies by word of mouth. If people tell their friends to see it, that’s more important than anything.
We’ve had visitors. Among other wonderfully talented friends, actress Kelly Hu and journalist Lisa Ling came to our second preview. And towards the end of the week, the cast was honored by a backstage visit from none other than …
A week of hard work ended with a banquet graciously hosted by Jennifer Lim’s amazing mother Margaret, who owns the best Korean restaurant in Hong Kong. She arranged for us to take over a restaurant in Greenwich Village, where we enjoyed a scrumptious Korean feast, drank too much, and enjoyed a little communal R&R …