New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Daphne Does Dim Sum Disappoints

Shigeko Sara Suga, Kitty Mei-Mei Chen and Alan Ariano (center) and Michael Rosete
Last spring, at its fifteenth annual Women Playwrights Series, Hackettstown's Centenary Stage Company developed and presented workshop productions of four new plays. One of them, Daphne Does Dim Sum by San Franciscan Eugenie Chan, was selected for further development and a full Equity production on its main stage this season. The resulting production is currently on stage at Centenary.

Unhappily, Daphne Does Dim Sum is a not very funny, ever so slight situation comedy. This ninety minute one-act with, its eight, often repetitious scenes or "rounds," feels like eight episodes of a television sitcom presented back to back.

The setting is a dim sum restaurant in San Francisco's Chinatown. Two retired women meet here once a week for lunch. The widowed Daphne had been a teller at a bank where the never married Bessie had been bank manager. The play depicts seven weeks of their lunches and a Saturday night dance at the restaurant.

Daphne and Bessie constantly bicker. They have a running argument over the luncheon check. Each wants to pay it and, for each of the plays first three scenes or "rounds," the one who manipulates successfully to pay it is the winner of the round. While Chan's idea is that a traditional Chinese person wants the "honor" of paying, the situation here is one in which each is motivated by the desire to laud her superiority over the other.

There are two additional roles. Omnipresent is an acerbic, insulting waiter (he comments to the stoutish Daphne that she is ordering an extra dish "for your figure"). He is given to speak directly to the audience, offering rhymed and falsely rhymed "wisdom":

only thing you can trust/ your own taste, your own gut

Arriving in time for "round" four is Alan, Bessie's manipulating, rapacious and childish brother, who has been thrown out by his wife. Alan is more than willing to stoke the rivalry for his affection which develops between Daphne and Bessie.

There is neither consistency nor believability in the character of either Daphne or Bessie. Daphne has returned from a vacation in Hong Kong and sings its praises, particularly the old fashioned manners which she has observed. Bessie prefers the freedoms of the USA. Yet, for the most part, it is Bessie who is more traditional and critical of "Caucasian" behavior (i.e., "going dutch"). Overcoming the lack of a recognizable, three-dimensional role, Kitty Mei-Mei Chen uses body and facial language to create an older woman who is polite and proper, as well as more than a bit smug and superior. I did not believe the words and actions provided by the playwright, but I did believe in the figure created by Ms. Chen. Shigeko Sara Suga is energetic and likeable in sitcom fashion, but her Daphne is a totally artificial creation. More exaggerated in their characterizations are Alan Ariano (Alan) and Michael R. Rosete (Waiter).

Director Kate Lyn Reiter has directed without bringing any subtlety or dimension to the matters at hand. The broad slapstick of the Saturday dance scene is performed stiffly and without zest. Neither the direction nor the set convey any sense of the cavernous dim sum palace listed as the play's principle location. Outstanding here are the witty and attractive costumes by Julie Sharp. They are practically a show in themselves.

In the program, there is an alternate title listed for Daphne Does Dim Sum. It is Mai Dan! which we are informed literally means "Check, please!" Might be fun to try it out when next eating Chinese.

Daphne Does Dim Sum continues performances (Thursdays 7:30 pm/ Fridays & Saturdays 8 pm/ Wednesdays & Sundays 2:30 pm) through March 9, 2008 at the Centenary Stage Company on the campus of Centenary College, 400 Jefferson Street, Hackettstown, NJ 07840. Box Office: 908-979-0900. online

Daphne Does Dim Sum by Eugenie Chan; directed by Kate Lyn Reiter
Daphne Ong…………….Shigeko Sara Suga
Bessie Kuo……………Kitty Mei-Mei Chen
Alan Kuo……………………....Alan Ariano
Waiter…………………...Michael R. Rosete

Photo: Carl Wallnau   

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- Bob Rendell

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