Coco Nakase ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
When I first heard about Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s production of David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish, I was reluctant to see it. The name suggested a crude comedy with Asian stereotypes and horrible “Engrish” accents. As an Asian American acting student, the last thing I wanted to see was a terrible reminder of the state of Asian American representation in the theatre world today. (But seriously, I can only think of a handful of famous Asian actors, half of which are martial artists.) But Chinglish, in the end, surprised me with the thoughtfulness of its execution and the strength of the acting despite the language barrier.
Chinglish’s success was mostly due to its impressive actors, most of whom had to learn Chinese for the show. Barlow Adamson’s loud and cars salesman-like American businessman played well against, Celeste Oliva’s more conservative but colorful Chinese executive. But truly, Oliva’s acting was the highlight of the show. While watching her performance, I was stunned by the amount of emotion, honesty and variety she was able to pack behind each of her lines in Chinese. I must give credit to the show’s dialect coach, Gail Wang, for an outstanding job. The accents were extremely accurate and never came across as campy.
The staging of the play was clean and simple. The single set served as many locations with concise scene changes that brought in tables or chairs as needed. Surrounded by audience on three sides, the staging felt very open and natural. Some moments felt a bit bizarre, in particular when Oliva’s character has a monologue in Chinese while a girl in traditional Chinese garb dances and a shirtless man flexes in the background. I could see where the director was going with this, but in the end, it felt too far from the tone of the play to be natural. The music included in the show was also hit and miss. While the traditional Chinese music added to the experience, the strange techno, trance music felt out of place and jarring whenever it came on for set changes.
In the end, the weakest part of the show was the writing. Some of the plot didn’t quite make sense, and the sudden existential and contemplative moments of the show took away from the comedy and felt out of place. While these choices make sense from a comprehensive story-telling perspective, I believe Hwang wanted to accurately convey the mind of a Chinese woman caught between tradition and passion, the overall fluidity and cohesiveness was affected. I also could have done without the clichéd mention of the show’s title in the last sentence of the play to “wrap” things up.
However, these gripes are, on the whole, small. Wonderful and thought out directing choices and stellar acting keep these little cracks from being too noticeable and, in the end, Chinglish had both the comedy and the refreshing global perspective that Hwang intended. People looking for a good laugh, good Asian-American actors or an interesting commentary on how foreign counties see America should definitely see Chinglish. While tickets are normally in the $30-50 dollar range, students can get rush tickets an hour before the show for $10, a ridiculous deal for a professional play.