Chinglish at Syracuse Stage

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By Craig Thornton

Chinglish, now playing at Syracuse Stage is one of the most original pieces of theater I have seen in a long time.  A comedy of miscommunication the clichéd term “lost in translation” aptly applies for this light, yet very interesting piece.

 Playwright David Henry Hwang’s works often deal with the Chinese American experience and Chinglish’s focus is perhaps the greatest example of this.  The plot focuses on an obscure deal between American and Chinese business executives and much of the humor and conflict arises out of cultural and language misunderstandings.

 American business man, Jeff Locker (Peter Timms) has his own personal translator (Daniel Cavanaugh) as he travels throughout the interior of China in a bustling province where he hopes to seal a deal. The Chinese executives he faces also have their own translators that often infuse anti-American editorials into their translations.

 When Jeff gets romantically involved with the sexy executive Xi Yan (Tina Chilip) the cross culture connection gets very complicated and he learns that outside of sex, almost everything in China is different, including notions of fidelity and marriage.

 Much of the dialogue is delivered in Mandarin with translations in text projected on a screen above the actors on stage.  Briefly, at the beginning it feels awkward, but only briefly.  I was surprised and impressed how quickly the awkwardness goes away and the reading of the translation becomes just part of the play, without a second thought.  This is especially helpful in the second half when the characters are better known by each other and to the audience and the characters speak faster and more of shorthand.

 How much you like Chinglish may depend on how funny you think Chignlish – which is defined as nonsensical and ungrammatically correct translations of English in Chinese context—is. The set is fantastic and this is a polished production that you will not see anywhere else.  As usual Syracuse’s artistic team is top notch.

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Friday, October 31, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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