Chinglish is a sharp-edged comedy about cultural miscues between America and China, written by Pulitzer-winner David Henry Hwang. It’s full of barbed humor, hilarious misunderstandings and interesting reverses. Laughter and satire go hand in hand.
The story involves a Midwestern businessman, speaking only English, desperate to swing a deal to provide well-translated English signage for a new Chinese performing arts complex. And the modern reality is that the American needs the contract more than the Chinese authorities need him.
Closing the deal proves tricky as both sides grapple with unfamiliar business customs, political systems and corruption scandals. Chinglish also has a sexy subplot illuminating alternate expectations in marriage and romance.
A quarter of the dialogue is in Mandarin (with English supertitles)—the Mandarin portion generates many of the biggest laughs. Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra has imported some Mandarin speakers, including Seattle’s Kathy Hsieh in the pivotal role of Vice Minister of Culture Xi Yan. Also good is David Rosprim as an expat-English-teacher-turned-business consultant, and Hock Tjoa as Culture Minister Cai (trying to steer the contract to a relative). Director Annie Lareau wisely maintains a brisk pace.
Because it needs Mandarin speakers, Chinglish—which made its debut in 2011—has previously been staged mostly in bigger markets. This production by CATS, the only Asian theater company in the region, will likely be the only opportunity to see it here. But it’s well worth the drive to Nevada City to experience this smartly staged, highly topical comedy.