A Review by Mark Sheaffer
David Henry Hwang has built a reputation for addressing prejudice and bias in life and theater since the 1980’s, particularly those facing Asian Americans in the global community. “Chinglish,” directed by Leigh Silverman, is a spectacular representation of what Hwang has sought to convey through his work over the past several decades. If you see “Chinglish” at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre before its world debut run ends July 24, you will be rewarded.
Most impressive in Hwang’s play is the dialogue. It is sharp, witty, thoughtful, and intelligent. It is also hilarious at times, tense at others, and touching in surprising ways.
The premise of this entirely enjoyable production is the difficulties Americans face doing business in today’s rapidly developing China. We’ve all seen the internet images of awkward translations of seemingly simple signs such as restrooms and wet floors from Chinese into English. These serve as a springboard for an enjoyable and mindful evening.
Stephen Pucci leads this egalitarian production as Peter Timms, offering a seminar on doing business in China. He has succeeded, but not without surviving a roller-coaster of business and personal twists and turns. Through flashback, we see how Timms eventually succeeded in China by compromising his personal morals (to his emotional detriment) and acknowledging his past professional transgressions (to his professional gain).
Mr. Pucci is joined by a splendid cast that leads us through his ups and downs, notably Jennifer Lim as Xu Yan, Timms’s paramour and most effective ally (although her motives were not what Timms had hoped), and Larry Zhang as the cultural minister who is undermined by the Yan-Pucci alliance that is ultimately his undoing.
The entire cast, the interpreters, deputies, Pucci’s liason played by James Wateston, give fabulous performances, delivering Hwang’s brilliantly witty lines with impeccable timing and poise. Their enjoyment in performing this work was infectious.
I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at The Goodman with “Chinglish” and will be shocked if anyone who doesn’t make it to see this terrific production doesn’t agree.
Editor’s Note: Mark Sheaffer is an attorney who practices in Illinois. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Madelene.