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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 13, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 11
ArtsWest's production of Chinglish is whip smart and sharp
Arts & Entertainment
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ArtsWest's production of Chinglish is whip smart and sharp

by Paul Torres - SGN A&E Writer

CHINGLISH
ARTSWEST
Through March 29


Cross-cultural miscues and absurdity abound in Chinglish, the current production at ArtsWest. Presented as a PowerPoint presentation, culturally naïve Ohioan Daniel Cavanaugh describes his last ditch effort to save his family's sign making company by going to mainland China for a big sale. He does not know the language, but he is assisted by Peter, an English businessman, who lives and conducts business in China. He promises to help Daniel with the translation and navigate the cultural nuances.

Daniel, played with accurate Midwest affable dorkiness by Evan Whitfield, has a sales pitch in Guiyang for its new international cultural center. He believes his family's business can handle the complexities of creating bilingual signs that will not end up with embarrassing translations.

The vice-minister of culture, Xi Yan, wonderfully played by Kathy Hsieh, carefully listens to the business dealings. As Xi, Kathy Hsieh combines professionalism with a foreboding sultriness. Hsieh is a good reason to see Chinglish. Daniel, a sad sack involved in a well-known financial scandal, wants a redemptive turn-around, and is enticed by what Xi has to bring to the table and to the bed.

Upfront Xi is stern, but that quickly yields when she realizes that this business deal could benefit both her and Daniel. Whitfield and Hsieh give highly tuned performances with their seemingly opposing characters.

Other plot twists ensue that involve Peter and Xi's husband and boss. Their supporting performances are the tasty, funny morsels for a story that involves the great American characteristics of failing upward and romantic love, which according to Xi; '(love)... it is your American religion.'

This production meets its set and language challenges. Much of the play is in Mandarin. A screen projecting the English translation hangs above the set, but the comedy is never lost in translation and it hits the mark. Neon signs enhancing the background include amusing mistranslations such as 'Fuck Vegetables' and 'No Louding.' Scenic designer Carey Wong does excellent work here.

Playwright David Henry Hwang's piercing tale mines the messiness of language and cultural misinterpretations and then rises above with pure stage gold. Chinglish is whip smart and sharp. Director Annie Lareau succeeds with portraying the comical complications in a production that is highly frenetic and thought provoking.

Chinglish may be about mixing business and pleasure in a foreign world with hilarious results, but it soundly transcends translation.

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