By Pauline Luppert
One could say plays developed at Berkeley Rep really get around. Eight have enjoyed Broadway runs, including American Idiot, Bridge & Tunnel, In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), Passing Strange, and Wishful Drinking — and 20 played off Broadway, including Brundibar, Compulsion, Eurydice, In the Wake, and Taking Over. In the last 10 years alone, Berkeley Rep has helped send 17 shows to New York and 2 to London while 2 turned into films and others toured the nation. Now, for the first time, Berkeley Rep will be sending a production to Asia.
The Theatre recently announced that its production of Chinglish will play at the 2013 Hong Kong Arts Festival in March. Founded in 1973, the Festival takes place in over a dozen venues attended by more than 150,000 audience members.It presents a diverse range of artistic fare, from classical music to modern dance, and has included artists and groups such as the Bolshoi Theatre, Buena Vista Social Club, José Carreras, the China National Peking Opera Company, Yo-Yo Ma, the Mark Morris Dance Group, Bobby McFerrin, Moscow Art Theatre, Paris Opera Ballet, the People’s Art Theatre of Beijing, Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Tisa Ho, executive director of the festival, says, “If the arts offer a mirror in which we see ourselves reflected, then the 41st Hong Kong Arts Festival offers many mirrors reflecting many perspectives, and David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish offers possibly the most acute confrontation of perspectives, taken from an American point of view. We’re delighted to welcome this Berkeley Rep production to Hong Kong, a city in which east and west have met and mingled for over a century with varying degrees of mutual understanding.”
Over the years, playwright David Henry Hwang met with producers and Chinese officials and hoped to find “a powerful sponsor” for the show. After several thwarted efforts he learned, “You never know when your powerful sponsor is going to get deposed.”
David expressed his fear Chinese government officials would not permit a production of Chinglish in China. “Chinglish deals with issues like government corruption, and it includes a romance between a Communist party cadre and a detested foreigner,” he explains.
Furthermore, David’s work has a controversial history in China. “My best-known play, M. Butterfly, cannot be staged in China,” he says about his Tony Award–winning drama. “Even as little as two or three years ago they tried to do it in Shanghai, in an English version for like five performances, and it got shut down after three shows.”
Chinglish has been performed for culturally diverse audiences in the U.S. that included substantial numbers of Asians, Asian Americans, and non-Asian Americans. David believes it has been a positive influence on mutual understanding between the Chinese and Americans. “A play like this, just as long as it can get us talking about some of these misunderstandings and laughing together, hopefully is a step in the right direction.”
Asian and Asian-American work at Berkeley Rep
Here's a sampling of Asian and Asian-American artists and stories seen at Berkeley Rep:
1984 Kabuki Medea by Shozo Sato, West Coast premiere
1987 Clytemnestra by Tadashi Suzuki
1988 The Tale of Lear by Tadashi Suzuki, West Coast premiere
1988 Yankee Dawg You Die by Philip Kan Gotanda, world premiere
1991 Fish Head Soup by Philip Kan Gotanda, world premiere
1992 Dragonwings by Laurence Yep, world premiere
1994 Soundshape II by Tan Dun, world premiere
1994 Day Standing on Its Head by Philip Kan Gotanda, West Coast premiere
1994 The Woman Warrior, adapted from Maxine Hong Kingston, world premiere
1994 Airport Music by Jessica Hagedorn and Hang Ong, West Coast premiere
1994 Last of the Suns by Alice Tuan, world premiere
1995 Ballad of Yachiyo by Philip Kan Gotanda, world premiere
1996 Journey to the West, adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman, West Coast premiere
2001 36 Views by Naomi Iizuka, world premiere
2007 after the quake, adapted from Haruki Murakami
2010 Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West by Naomi Iizuka, world premiere
2012 Chinglish by David Henry Hwang, West Coast premiere
2012 The White Snake, adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman, world-premiere production
This article first appeared in the Berkeley Rep magazine, 2012-13, issue 1
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