Author Archive for: ‘KedarAdour’

CHINGLISH at Berkeley Rep a marvelous multi-cultural farce.

(l to r) Michelle Krusiec and Alex Moggridge star in Berkeley Rep’s production of Chinglish, a new comedy from David Henry Hwang which heads for Hong Kong after having its West Coast premiere here. Photo courtesy of

CHINGLISH by David Henry Hwang. Directed by Leigh Silverman. Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704. (510) 647-2949 or August 24 – October 7, 2012

CHINGLISH at Berkeley Rep a marvelous multi-cultural farce.

To open their 2012-2013 season the innovative, multi-award winning Berkeley Rep has come up with another sparkling production from the pen of David Henry Hwang whose M Butterfly won the Tony Award in 1988 and gained further fame with Yellow Face earning a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 2008. This time around Chinglish took Chicago by storm in its world premiere in 2011 before heading off to Broadway. The Rep, in conjunction with the South Coast Repertory Theatre has brought the show to the Bay area keeping Leigh Silverman as director, David Korins scenic design and costumes by Anita Yavich.

Do not be deterred by the fact that great chunks of the dialog is in Mandarin since the easily read super-titles give a literal translation and that is more than half of the fun of the play. In fact it is those English definitions of Chinese phrases that have been garnering laughs as they have made the rounds on the Internet such as “Deformed Man’s Toilet” to indicate a handicapped restroom and the risqué “Don’t forget your thing” meaning do not leave your thing(s) behind.

Those skewed malapropisms is the reason why innocent abroad Daniel Cavanaugh (Alex Moggridge) is in Guiyang one of China’s lesser-known cities. The powers that be are attempting to attract more tourists and are building a cultural Arts Center with a dire need to have signs accurately translated from Chinese to English. Who better than the “Cleveland Signage Co.”, a family run business with Daniel as the C.E.O. . . . if there is such a title. More about that later.

The play is book ended by Daniel giving a speech to the local Cleveland Rotary on how to conduct business in China using his experiences of being there three years ago. Moggeridge displays his charming wit and comic timing using the super-titles hilariously showing how the meaning can be lost in translation. This humor is even more cogent with the personal misinterpretations prominently translated by the super-titles as the play progresses.

Every businessman should know that if you don’t speak the language you need a consultant. Enter Peter (Brian Nishii), a Britisher who has been teaching English in China for many years now passing himself off as an experienced consultant who he is not. Daniel is taught the subtleties of negotiations and ‘back-door’ favors since he Peter, unbeknownst to Daniel, is involved in such shenanigans that eventually are revealed and come back to bite him on the butt, not actually but significantly enough to depart his career of consulting and possible to share a cell with devious Minister Cai (Larry Lei Zhang).

The first meeting brings gales of laughter as the inept interpreter Miss Qian (Celeste Den) screws up the translation. Poor Daniel’s ‘small’ company becomes an insignificant one and these mistakes go on and on with Xi Yan (Michelle Krusiec) occasionally interceding. When all seems lost Xi Yan takes Daniel under her wing and into bed because he has a “good honest face.” Their attempts at meaningful conversation, with appropriate super titles, are both bittersweet and laugh inducing.

The laughs end when Xi Yan discovers that the Cleveland Signage Company exists only on the Internet and Daniel’s connection with the Enron scandal is revealed. Never fear the play is a farce and miscues are morphed into winners and so it is for all but Minister Cai and Peter.

The set that has been brought intact from the Chicago and Broadway productions is an absolute marvel with two revolving platforms, each with three sections that become cafes, hotel lobbies, hotel bedrooms, clinical appearing office spaces, revolving doors with the addition of remote controlled chairs that glide on and off stage. If you wish to read the cultural implications of the Chinese/American differences be my guest. My suggestion is just go and enjoy a great evening of theatre. Running time about 2 hours with and intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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