An American businessman who knows nothing about Chinese ways comes to China to ink a deal with his small, family-run signage company. What ensues is cultural mayhem as he fumbles his way through social landmines that explode without him even knowing. Given the U.S.’ tenuous relationship with China, the play comes at a perfect time.
In his newest play, Chinglish, renowned playwright David Henry Hwang takes us on a humorous, yet bittersweet romp examining the behind-the-scenes antics that occur when U.S. vendors attempt to do business with China. There are language misunderstandings, errors in translation, and cultural offenses that seem irreversible. In an act of bravado, Hwang takes the practice of Chinese insincere humility out of the closet. In one scene, the main character, Daniel Cavanaugh of Cleveland, Ohio is coached by a British consultant by the name of Peter Timms who has lived in China more than a decade. Cavanaugh is told that he should always downplay his successes, but make sure someone in the room exalts his triumphs so people will be impressed.
In total, the cast is comprised of only seven people; a few playing more than one role. Leads belong to Michael Barrett Austin who plays the innocent American businessman and Nicole Tung as the confident and powerful Xi Yan. On opening night, both leads were convincing, evoking a powerful stage presence. During Daniel Cavanaugh’s business meeting with a government official, he meets Xi Yan and both form an attachment to the other. During their affair, cultural differences come into play. He falls in love with her; she finds love an American concept. He wants to tell his wife in order to be honest; she refuses to tell her husband in order to respect and not hurt him.
Anyone who has gone to China to do business, must see this play. Identifying with the dialog and the quirky way things are done in China will surely illicit a smile and a memory or two. In the play, Hwang brings out the fact that relationships are what makes deals happen, not paper contracts nor a stranger’s handshake. The entire cast is hilarious with excellent comedic timing and peak performances from each actor.
The story is told in two languages, both in Mandarin and English. With over 25 percent of the dialog in Mandarin, the producers have been clever enough to post the translations on screens. Convicting and insightful, Chinglish is a refreshing nod to the story of culture and morality clash both in business and in romance.
Get your tickets now. The show closes on June 10, 2023.
When You Go:
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street