Chinglish is a Welcome and Hysterical Escape
By Armando Huipe
“Slip and Fall Down Carefully” is what a mistranslated “Caution Slippery Floor” sign might read in China; a handicapped restroom becomes a “Deformed Man’s Toilet.” Chinglish follows an American sign salesman hoping to capitalize on these mis-translations to expand his family signage business. Playwright David Henry Hwang shepherds the audience through an internationalized China and highlights the cultural differences between China and the U.S. regarding topics such as art, language, business and romance.
Hwang flips the script, placing the Westerners in a foreign country where they take on immigrant challenges. This familiar plot reaches new depths in light of America’s desperately slowing economy and China’s rising one. Daniel Cavanaugh’s (Alex Moggridge) motivation for traveling to China stems from desperation to escape an association with the infamous Enron scandal. However, Daniel is not the only one with quibbling intentions; it seems that everyone has ulterior motives, which serve to mislead the characters just as much as the regrettable signage. Getting lost in translation, piled onto equivocation, leads to so much laughter you can skip your core workout.
The play is framed as a business presentation given by Daniel Cavanaugh. Moggridge is able to achieve his comedic goals in his portrayal of Daniel. However, Daniel is thrust into a rather unlikely romance with Xi Yan (Michelle Krusiec) midway through the first act. Xi Yan’s background as a Chinese national and politico suggests that she would not engage in an extramarital relationship, but such is the plot of Chinglish. This situation presents Moggridge with quite a challenge. It is in the intimate scenes between Krusiec and Moggridge that her acting chops stand out; his don’t quite reach similar depths. Krusiec’s performance as Xi Yan manages to shine through as the gem of the evening. She was given a set of beautiful monologues and, even though she was speaking in a language foreign to me, I felt I was gaining an intimate peek into her character. The supporting cast, which includes Vivian Chiu, Celeste Den, Raymond Ma, and Brian Nishii, displays excellent comedic timing in an entertaining game of verbal hot potato.
The scenic design, by David Korins, creates a multitude of locations with an impressive amount of realism. Although Daniel remains mostly clueless and on the wrong side of language barriers, the audience can follow every punch line thanks to the fabulous Mandarin Chinese translations by Candace Chong and great projection design by Jeff Sugg and Shawn Duan. The language and word play lead to relentlessly hilarious dialogue, with three or four conversations happening simultaneously at times. The experience is well worth the drive across the Los Angeles County line into the OC.
Chinglish, comes to Southern California by way of a co-production between South Coast Repertory and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The show runs on the Orange County stage until February 24th, before heading to China for the Hong Kong Arts Festival in March. Chinglish follows the SCR run of Motherfucker with a Hat; both plays round out a hilariously funny and diverse winter season.
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Written by David Henry Hwang
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Performances: January 25 to February 24th, 2013
South Coast Repertory
655 Towne Center Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tickets and additional information at www.scr.org