Sing Tao Chinglish

Chinglish with David Henry Hwang, Audience Bursts Into Laughter

By Chutze Chou, Sing Tao Newspaper

Leverett Wing (Division of Community Services, DHCD); Sherry Dong (Tufts Medical Center); Michelle Wu (worked for Elizabeth Warren campaign); Michael Tow (ACDC). Photo by Chutze.

David Henry Hwang (Chinglish playwright); Gish Gen (author); Jeannie Suk (Harvard Law School). Photo by Chutze.

Chinglish cast at ATASK’s reception. Photo by Chutze.

On December 7th, Chinglish playwright David Henry Hwang joined a post-performance reception organized by ATASK (Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence) at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston. Hosted by famous author Gish Jen and WHDH reporter Janet Wu, Hwang shared his perspectives and wishes at the reception.

Chinglish is a new comedy by Tony winner David Henry Hwang; which has run in Chicago and on Broadway since June, 2011. Named one of Time Magazine's 10 best plays of 2011, the production also helped Hwang to be honored with the 2012 Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award.

Chinglish is about an American businessman arrives in a bustling Chinese province looking to score a lucrative contact for his family’s sign-making firm. He soon discovers that the complexities of such a venture far outstrip the expected differences in language, customs and manners — and call into question even the most basic assumptions of human conduct. Chinglish is performed in both English and Mandarin, with English subtitles, which made the audience burst into laughter.

At ATASK’s reception, Gish Jen said that Hwang is an amazing playwright, the plot and dialogues are not only funny, but also have a universal value. Even from the situation of supporting roles, like the consultant and the Minister of Culture, the audience could find the playwright’s implied meaning. As a leading Asian American playwright, Hwang should be honored with more awards.

Hwang admitted that it is a hard process for him to accomplish these achievements. At the start of his career as a playwright, there were only a few Asian Americans in theater field. But nowadays, he is very happy to see an increasing number of Asian Americans joining him.
Hwang said that because China became very interested in Broadway-style musicals, he had opportunities to start visiting China at least twice every year since 2005. He was impressed by China’s culture, and badly translated Chinglish signs as well. Then he began thinking of using the signs as a jumping-off point to write a play that would deal with doing business in China, but would also tackle the issue of language.

Another challenge and feature of Chinglish for him is bilingual performance. Although Hwang grew up in a Chinese family, he merely studied Chinese in college for several years. Therefore, he and his translator, a Hong Kong-based playwright, spent several years on discussing the script and translation. Hwang said, language is fascinating, which is the password to look at the world. When change to another language, people feel like an outsider take a new look at the familiar things.

In response to a question, David Henry Hwang said that looking for bilingual actors is the greatest challenge for Chinglish. Except Broadway, it was really difficult to find actors who are fluent in both English and Chinese. Another challenge is translation. Hwang and the crew specially chose words, such as “情義” which has no corresponding translation, and “我愛你” which has different types of argument sentence, to include in the play.

Hwang also told the guests at the reception that producer Justin Lin intends to make Chinglish into a movie.

The cast of Chinglish in Boston includes Michael Tow, President of the Board of the Asian Community Development Corporation. Language coach is Gangliu Wang.

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