Pangdemonium's production of David Henry Hwang's Chinglish is abound with convenient stereotypes and tired jokes — all for a slapstick cultural exchange
1. You'll have fun laughing at both the Chinese and Americans
Because why not? Chinglish grapples with communication breakdowns in business and in love. Written by David Henry Hwang — the Chinese-American who also wrote the Tony Award-winning M. Butterfly — it's an American narrative bearing a self-deprecating tone. Similar to Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation, Hwang's play offers the part of the ignorant American abroad, a stereotype we've all come to love. The character in question is Daniel Cavanaugh, a Midwestern businessman who travels to China to seal a lucrative deal. Daniel Jenkins' portrayal of him's not all-American though — unfortunately the Brit in him seeps through to form a sort of transatlantic accent at some parts.
2. It forms a timely representation of Singapore's current local vs. foreigner sentiment
It's the classic complaint in every globalised city: "Foreigners are taking our jobs". But is it that simple? While Chinglish was initially written with America and China in mind, there are some striking similarities to our local landscape. Oon Shu An's character of the vice minister represents a forward-thinking, modern China, eager to move on to greater things and wanting the best for her country. She's cautious of the foreign stranger, striving to look inward instead of elsewhere to fix the problem. Sound familiar? Yes, you've met her — online, fervently typing at the comment section of a news article on foreign talent.
3. Language is more than a form, it's a character
Come on now, accents are pretty hilarious. It's what we love about living in a metropolitan — our melting pot is often stirred with diverse sounds and smells. Audrey Luo provides the crux of the play's comedy, handling both English and Mandarin in hilarious fashion as the translators whose roles are rife with mistranslations and misinterpretations. About a quarter of the dialogue is in Mandarin, with English subtitles projected on the back screen.
4. They're some steamy, intimate scenes
You probably shouldn't bring your 12-year-old to this, or you'll have to deal with some serious questions about oral sex later on. Oon's underlying vulnerability to her character's femme fatale persona is hopelessly endearing — we watch as she intersperses jaded sentiments on love and relationships during a mating dance. While the characters are often shown as desperate to be understood in business, the same frustrations also lie in the on-stage relationships.
5. Pangdemonium bothered with a haze joke
The stuff of memes and gifs have now made their way to the stage, even if it's just for a split second. "Haze? What haze?" quips a character when a move to Singapore is suggested — we're pretty sure Hwang wasn't thinking of Singapore's weather in mind when he wrote the play, so cheers to Pangdemonium for including this bit in.
Chinglish is showing at the Drama Centre Theatre from now till 25 October. Book your tickets here.