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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Smart Comic Production of
David Henry Hwang's Chinglish

Also see Richard's review of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity

Chinglish
Michelle Krusiec and Alex Moggridge
Berkeley Repertory Theatre opens its 2012-2013 season with the clever comedy Chinglish by David Henry Hwang in a co-production with the South Coast Repertory Company. Chinglish premiered at the Goodman Theatre last year and the Chicago critics said it was Hwang's best work since M. Butterfly. I certainly agree—this is a wonderful view of Chinese-American business dealings in which the traditional roles have been reversed. In the fast-paced comedy, the Americans are the underdogs while industrial superpower China, with wads of cash, can call the shots.

Na´ve American businessman David Cavanaugh (Alex Moggridge) travels to the provincial Chinese capital of Huiyang to secure a lucrative contract for his family signage firm back in Cleveland. A massive new international arts center is being built, and the Chinese will need signs in English and Chinese. The current signs include hilarious mistranslations, such as "Deformed Man's Toilet" for "Handicapped Restroom" and "Fuck the Certain Price of Goods" for "Dry Goods Pricing Department."

David is aided by Mandarin-speaking British consultant Peter (Brian Nishii), who has fits of temperament and almost causes David to lose the contract. David has to win over the local cultural minister Cai (Larry Lei Zhang) and his prickly vice minister Xi Yan (Michelle Krusiec), who speaks very little English, while David speaks only a few words of (mostly wrong) Chinese. She becomes David's friend and sexual partner and some of the pillow talk is hilarious.

There is a lot of Mandarin language in Chinglish, but have no fear, as Chinese to English and vice versa translations/mistranslations are brightly projected onto the walls of the set. The short scenes work well with David Korins's ingenious set, which is a marvel as it constantly reinvents itself with panels gliding into place and pieces locking together faultlessly to create a series of spaces including a business hotel, conference rooms and the bedroom of David's hotel.

Director Leigh Silverman has assembled a great cast of actors, obtaining brisk performances from the seven member ensemble. Alex Moggridge gives an agreeable performance as David, projecting just the right boyish quality in his acting. Michelle Krusiec is outstanding as the sensuous Xi Yan, while Brian Nishii gives a good performance as the shabby British expatriate, and Larry Lei Zhang gives a poignant performance as the Cultural Minister Zhang. Celeste Den as Miss Qian and Austin Ku (returning to a Bay Area Stage after five year absence) as both Bing and Judge Geming give spotless performances.

The West Coast premiere production of Chinglish runs through October 7 at the Berkeley Repertory, Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets call 510-647-2949 or online at www.berkeleyrep.org. Their next production will be An Iliad, a co-production with La Jolla Playhouse. It opens on October 12 and runs through November 11.


Photo: kevinberne.com


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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