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"Ch’ing*lish" by David Henry Hwang at Longacre Theatre

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Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel,
et al.
in association with
the Goodman Theatre

(Chinglish Website)

By David Henry Hwang
Directed by Leigh Silverman

Longacre Theatre
220 West 48th Street

Jennifer Lim, Gary Wilmes,
Angela Lin, Christine Lin, Stephen Pucci,
Johnny Wu, Larry Lei Zhang

Scenic Design: David Korins
Costume Design: Anita Yavich
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Darron L. West
Projection Design: Jeff Sugg, Shawn Duan
Technical Supervision: Hudson Theatrical Associates
Casting: Telsey + Company
Jordan Thaler & Heidi Griffiths
Adam Belcuore
Cultural Advisors: Joanna C. Lee, Ken Smith
Mandarin Chinese Translations: Candace Chong
Production Stage Manager: Stephen M. Kaus
Press/Marketing: Jeffrey Richards Assoc.
Irene Gandy/Alana Karpoff
Assoc. Producer: Jeremy Scott Blaustein
General Management: Richards Climan, Inc.

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 9, 2011 Matinee

The hot sales markets these days are in China, and David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish is set in the present, in Guiyang, China. Gary Wilmes, as Daniel Cavanaugh, from Cleveland, USA, lectures the audience, in his onstage, high tech sales promotion, as to how the Chinese are misspelling and misunderstanding the words in their English signs. He’s there pitching his family business, that fell on hard times, in the aftermath of Enron type deals, which is bad publicity on his resume in the US. His sales pitch is on the rocks, until he starts reciting the names of the Enron thieves, making the Chinese business leaders excited to be in the presence of a criminal celebrity. Slick deals are their envy, and the salesmen with the slickest and most infamous connections are the most successful in closing big deals.

Cavanaugh has a bit more baggage than gross economic follies, as he’s ready for marital follies as well. His family’s in Cleveland, and he sees a gorgeous, tough Chinese Vice Minister, Jennifer Lim as Xi Yan, who’s ready to jump into his hotel bed. In the US, this could mean the beginning of an affair. But in Guiyang, this could mean an opportunity to manipulate a husband’s career, for better, not worse. As Chinglish is performed in both English and Mandarin, with supertitles translating Chinese, it’s critical to pay attention and keep an eye above the stage. But, unlike the opera, the dialogue can be tedious at times, and characters can be puzzling. No sweeping musical score here. Yet, for the viewer who’s checking for visual and aural cues, Chinglish can be quite entertaining, especially in the hotel scenes. Adding to the esoteric repartee is the fascinating, shifting set, by David Korins, that takes us to a hotel lobby, bedroom, municipal office, and more. The set turns to open new spaces, just as characters twist language to reveal new motives. Audience alertness pays off.

Cavanaugh’s English-speaking “consultant” is Stephen Pucci, as Peter Timms, an Australian native, who assists Americans, looking to open doors into this market. Timms and Cavanaugh have some comical get-togethers, analyzing and plotting, but serendipity and sex open the doors through universal behavior. Yet, even in bed, Ms. Yan and Cavanaugh think and speak with contrasting thoughts. Ms. Yan wanted diversion in marriage, while Cavanaugh wanted a new marriage. She wanted temporary escape, while he wanted to be loved. She was totally physical, while he was totally emotional. She was ready to sleep with him to manipulate her husband’s career, while he was ready to shed his life and family for her. She wouldn’t offend her husband, by telling him of the affair, while he was ready to call his wife and announce the affair. Cultures and languages clashed, as Cavanaugh and Ms. Yin battled in the midst of passion. Cold pragmatism won the argument, and Minister Cai Guoliang (Larry Lei Zhang) returns, center stage. He is Ms. Yan’s boss, known for an aggressive wife, so there’s more to that relationship, as well.

Filling out the cast are Angela Lin, as Miss Quian and Prosecutor Li, Christine Lin, as Miss Zhao, and Johnny Wu, as Bing and Judge Xu Geming. Thankfully, when the Mandarin dialogue occurs, it’s spoken with authenticity and respect. The three leads, Gary Wilmes, Jennifer Lim, and Stephen Pucci, have mastered the complex linguistics and rapid dialogues, as well as the nuanced twists in business and personal relationships, as they unfold onstage. At times, there’s a French farce aspect to the momentum, with comical surprises, but there’s also a poignancy to Cavanaugh’s character, a sense of alienation and angst. Mr. Wilmes was perfectly cast in the complex role of the traveling American salesman, navigating the absurdities of culture clash. Ms. Lim was perfectly cast as the confident, coy executive, who still looks after her husband, even as she looks after herself. Leigh Silverman has directed for outsized personalities, to fill the big stage. However, I’d like to see Chinglish again on the small stage, to focus on the gradations of dialogue and socio-political implications of the play. Kudos to David Henry Hwang, and kudos to the Goodman Theatre.

Stephen Pucci, Gary Wilmes,
Angela Lin, Larry Lei Zhang
in David Henry Hwang's "Ch’ing*lish"
Courtesy of Michael McCabe

Jennifer Lim and Gary Wilmes
in David Henry Hwang's "Ch’ing*lish"
Courtesy of Michael McCabe

Johnny Wu, Angela Lin,
Christine Lin, Gary Wilmes,
and Jennifer Lim in
David Henry Hwang's "Ch’ing*lish"
Courtesy of Michael McCabe

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at