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Satiric Chinaman carries universal message
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Satiric Chinaman carries universal message

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Ching Chong Chinaman
SiS Productions
Through April 24


It's a play with a name that shall not be named - that is, if you are of Chinese descent and aware of the singsong aspersions cast your way by the phrase "ching chong Chinaman." SiS Productions thought they would get barraged with criticism for even choosing a play with that name, but they felt strongly that Lauren Yee's message and her satire were worth producing. Yee chose to write about a family that is so strongly associated with "Americanism" that they don't know how to be Chinese at all.

This funny, sharply pointed satire stars Stan Asis as dad Ed, Kathy Hsieh as mom Grace, Elizabeth Daruthayan as daughter Desdemona, and Christian T. Ver as son Upton. They are so assimilated that they have no clue how to eat with chopsticks, have no idea where their family came from, and look with suspicion at "those Chinese" people. Upton is obsessed with winning a computer gaming contest and daughter Desdemona is desperate to win a spot at Princeton. Upton wants to devote more hours to game playing, so he imports an indentured servant from China to do his homework. The servant, J (his Chinese name sounds like "ching chong," but no one can say it correctly in the play), played by Jose Abaoag, wants to become an internationally known dancer, and isn't very good at math!

Somehow, Upton gets J adopted into his household by bamboozling his clueless parents. J begins to be introduced into American life, including finding a way to send an audition tape to "America's Next Top Dancing Star." His unlikely American supporter is Grace, who begins a torrid affair with him as she rediscovers her passionate love of tap-dance. While that sounds like a terrible betrayal of Ed, in this fanciful situation, it represents Grace's need to get out of the "wife" trap she has boxed herself into, rather than any hatred of Ed. Ed's job is, as he describes, "to make everyone happy. That's the job of the dad." He undertakes that mission with vigor, but clearly isn't up to that challenge.

A multi-character player, Kay Nahm, is a particularly funny and adept actor who assumes an ethnic Chinese character, a Korean gamer fan, a poor Korean orphan supported by American charity, and others. Look forward to seeing more of her in major roles in the near future.

Lauren Yee was reluctant, she says, to write an "ethnic" play, thinking it wouldn't get looked at by mainstream theaters if it was an all-ethnic cast. She faces a daily struggle as an Asian-American writer, and wonders how much of that should seep into her writing. She wants an audience to feel that the theme is universal. In reflection, the play mainly shows how each individual dreams of big achievements and takes his/her family connections for granted. Then Desdemona finds out that not only is she adopted, but she was born in Korea, not China - and it turns out that Upton is also adopted and was possibly born Japanese (they aren't sure).

When Desdemona achieves her dream of Princeton and Upton achieves winning the game tournament, they have no one to share the good news with besides this family they have neglected. That's a pretty universal sentiment.

Well-directed by Desdemona Chiang and with great assistance from the crew - particularly from sound engineer Roger Tang - this is a fun evening, with some food for thought to chew on.

For more information, go to www.sis-productions.org or call 206-323-9443.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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