Every Bay Area dweller has had an unsavory BART experience. So imagine, if you will, riding BART in complete darkness as you attempt to change your entire ensemble in under 50 seconds. That, my dear Berkeley Rep lovin' readers, is exactly what life is like for the cast of Chinglish.
For those who don't know, the show is set on two rotating turntables, and the platforms spin during the transitions in and out of each scene. For actors to exit and enter the stage, they hop from platform to platform to the beat of Chinese techno pop.
By Jacob Marx Rice
Berkeley Rep’s production of David Henry Hwang's Chinglish opens tonight! And while the play may be about cross-cultural discord, sound designer Darron L West filled the transitions with a more harmonious cultural exchange. Darron used clips of Chinese pop music, or C-pop, a mashup of western and eastern music that's been around since the 1920s.
C-pop went through tough times under Mao because it was seen as Western, bourgeois, and even pornographic. But as China has opened up, C-pop has exploded. Top songs get tens of millions of hits on YouTube, including songs with awesome Chinglish titles like “Heart had been injured who can love,” “Just lonely lonely,” and “You still owe me a hug.”
Infusing the show with C-pop gives the audience a sense another facet of modern China. The music is a definite change from the American pop we’re used to (it’s in Chinese for one thing), but audiences at Chinglish haven’t seemed to mind. Several have been spotted dancing along during the transitions. After listening to these clips from the show, we think you'll see why.
Also, check out this amazing music video for one of the songs. If a picture is worth a thousand words, we’re pretty sure this video is priceless.
Mere days before the West Coast premiere of his play, Chinglish, opens here at Berkeley Rep, David Henry Hwang learned he just won the most generous prize in theatre.
The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust put $200,000 in David's purse, citing his 32 years of writing provocative satires and dramas featuring Asian and Asian-American characters, including the Tony Award-winning M. Butterfly.
The New York Times reports that "Mr. Hwang, 55, said in a telephone interview that the money had allowed him to decline film and television work recently and focus his time on writing plays."
That's good news for the theatre world. Congratulations, David!
The 2012-13 has officially started, and we've hit the ground running. Sure, David Henry Hwang's Chinglish opens Friday, but close on its heels is Denis O'Hare and Lisa Peterson's An Iliad, an adaptation of Homer's classic tale.
We're co-producing the play with La Jolla Playhouse, where it just opened last week and garnered a terrific review in the San Diego Union Tribune. Here's an excerpt:
"As the Poet, Henry Woronicz summons the kind of performance you might wait a lifetime (or three) to see. For some 100 intermissionless minutes, he brings to vivid life the vast scale, the massive, terrifying clashes, of the war between the besieged city of Troy and the attacking Greek forces. At times he works the audience like a hard-bitten showman, cracking offhand jokes and telling anecdotes of his life on the road (the Gauls, apparently, were a tough crowd)… Woronicz is affecting and astounding."
David Henry Hwang's Chinglish, a comedy of cross-cultural errors, begins Friday. Here's a sneak peek of the set, which was trucked in from New York a few months ago and has been awaiting new life in our scene shop.
Production manager Tom Pearl takes a closer look.
And here's a view of it in the Roda Theatre last week.
A couple of bins of props in the Roda lobby, awaiting load-in.
All photos by Mary Kay Hickox.
OK, so it's not an Olympic medal, but it's still a Pretty Big Deal: Today we announced that Managing Director Susan Medak will receive the 2013 Benjamin Ide Wheeler Medal from the Berkeley Community Fund at its annual awards dinner on October 4.
Established in 1929, the award -- named after one of the most-admired presidents of the University of California -- honors a person who has made significant long-term contributions to the city of Berkeley. And Susan's commitment to the city extends well beyond theatre.
Says BCF President Jessica Pers, "She was instrumental in revitalizing downtown Berkeley into a vibrant arts district with live theatre, music, and arts education. She was also the founding chair of the Berkeley Arts in Education Steering Committee for the Berkeley Unified School District, founding chair of the Berkeley Cultural Trust, and is the current president of the Downtown Berkeley Association.”
“This is a community that takes particular pride in a high level of civic engagement by its citizens,” Susan remarks. “So it is a true honor to be recognized alongside such prestigious past winners when there are so many people who play such an active role in making Berkeley the vibrant and vital place that it is.”
In our book, that's as good as gold.
Life is imitating art when it comes to David Henry Hwang's Chinglish (which begins performances at Berkeley Rep in about two weeks!). In the play, an American businessman goes to China to score a business deal for his firm, only to collide with a Communist minister and a sexy bureaucrat.
Hmm, sounds a little bit like the current scandel involving former Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai and his wife Gu Kailai, who's now being tried for allegedly murdering British businessman Neil Heywood. Though the American businessman in David Henry Hwang's play doesn't meet exactly the same fate, the playwright had been told early on that some of the scenarios in his play wouldn't actually happen in China. But it seems they do happen, in this case with tragic results.
As the murder case was unfolding, Chinglish began rehearsals at our Harriosn Street campus in West Berkeley. Here's a glimpse of them:
Playwright David Henry Hwang with director Leigh Silverman.
From left: actors Brian Nishii and Alex Moggridge with David Henry Hwang and Leigh Silverman.
All photos by Cheshire Isaacs.