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SPEAKING


N G L I


C H I


Above: Jennifer Lim, Gary Wilmes, Left: Stephen Pucci, Jennifer Lim Photos: Michael McCabe


ORIGIN COLUMNIST Paul D. Miller, aka DJ SPOOKY


D


avid Henry Hwang is one of America’s premier voices for translating the Asian American experience, and I don’t say that lightly. In a world where playwrights as


diverse as Suzan-Lori Parks or younger dramatists like Young Jean Lee and Jay Scheib have begun unraveling so much of what it means to be in this strange, American, hyper-globalized world, Hwang’s theatre works stand out not only for their craftsmanship—look to his early works about the Chinese American community, like The Dance and The Railroad (1981) and F.O.B. (1980), or his later, award-winning pieces like M. Butterfly (1988) and Yellowface (2007)—it’s the crisp sense of execution, attention to detail and style, and, above all, a humanist sense of humor that makes his work the golden standard. In fact, one could argue that the thread that links most of David’s work is that East meets West at every level, and the highway pileup that results is often more interesting than the cultures in their own separate contexts. In all of his work, you can see a darkly humorous mind at play. Fast-forward to our current era of “Occupy Wall Street” and the main characters in his most recent work, Chinglish, preside over the stage like cardboard, cookie cutter cut-outs (one of whom worked at Enron) straight from the hearts of Lehman Brothers and MF Global. Compare that to some current films, and you get my drift. In one lame review, a snippy reviewer likened the work to a “bad sitcom.” Sometimes, life is like that. Ask anyone who saw Bush Jr. talk about banking policy, and you’re left feeling, well... unscripted.


When you look at films like The Social Network (2010) by David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, or more recent works like J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call (2011), you can see that the vast gap between reality and the financial crisis that has beset American finance for the last several years has eaten away at almost any pretense of “normality” in market forces. Hwang has taken that


S H


Chinglish offers what might, in all fun, read like a bad fortune cookie: “Those who follow the Way desire not excess; and thus without excess they are forever exempt from change.”


impulse and made it the source of alchemy that drives Chinglish: language shapes and molds all aspects of how we explore the world around us, and it’s that nuanced and carefully balanced vision that makes Hwang’s most recent foray into the theater so compelling. In a review of David Mamet’s last book, Christopher Hitchens discusses Mamet’s recent conversion to right-wing politics in The New York Times, describing Mamet as having produced “an extraordinarily irritating book, written by one of those people who smugly believe that, having lost their faith, they must ipso facto have found their reason.” By way of comparison, Chinglish offers what might, in all fun, read like a bad fortune cookie: “Those who follow the Way desire not excess; and thus without excess they are for ever exempt from change.” We need change—a lot more change. And that, perhaps, is the gift that Hwang gives us with this new theatre work. By making us laugh while we see the change the characters subtly impose on one another, we see ourselves at the edge of a different kind of crisis.


You could describe Chandor’s Margin Call as a thriller, but it’s not. We already know the ending. The tension all comes from words. Set in the autumn of 2008 at a fictional version of Lehman Brothers, the film is drenched in the finance jargon of contemporary Americana; one of its running jokes is that even the top executives who speak this language, a pidgin English, will stop to insist, “Say it in plain English!’’ If only they spoke English better... that’s the Chinglish connection. Hwang’s meditation is a dramatist’s vision of some of the same impulses. It’s just a lot cooler, and a lot funnier. Chinglish is definitely not lost in translation.


From the producers of August: Osage County comes CHINGLISH, a new comedy about the misadventures of miscommunication, written by Tony® Award winner David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) and directed by Obie Award winner Leigh Silverman (From Up Here, Well). WWW.CHINGLISHBROADWAY.COM


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