On “Chinglish”

Now just why was it that I wanted to come all the way to New York to see a play about a third-rate, two-bit American sign-maker, going to China to sell his “talents” to the Chinese, as they try for accurate signage translations in a  more international world?   … I dunno.  Maybe it was because “Chinglish “ was written by David Henry Hwang, of M Butterfly fame.  Maybe because it was about one of my favorite themes:  the failure of language to accurately communicate meaning, feeling, sense.  Maybe it was because some people told me it was outrageously funny and I’d love it.   And maybe it was because I believed the blurbs in the N.Y. Times ads.  I know better.

Well, okay, it was funny.  …I grant that.  …In places.  …For a while. … I laughed.  I laugh at the funny papers too, for a considerably more reasonable budget.  No complaints about some fine acting.  It was an impressively tricky revolving set, with projected inaccurate English translations of Chinese phrases popping up all over the place, just like those bubbles in the funny papers.  They were very funny.  No, really!  They were!  The laughs, from those to whom the play was more relevant than to me, were many and frequent.  I don’t know, maybe the audience was made up of Americans trying to do business in China … or visa versa.   Mr. Hwang is an awfully clever playwright who can turn a wicked phrase, but I have to admit that for my taste, a little goes a long way.  That “little” endured  for about 15 minutes.  And once again the subplot lines and jokes seem to have adopted the quick TV sit-com path, with little genuine character comedy.   And once you got the one-joke basic plot, there was basically not much room for the play to grow.   I did try to bear with it.  …  Just not my cup of tea!’ (I wonder how that expression would be translated into Chinese?)

One final thought:  A reminder to me:  NEVER believe the blurbs!

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One Response to On “Chinglish”

  1. Peter Gunter says:

    Hey Bill,
    I saw some previews of the play which seemed a little forced and not all that funny. Your review confirmed that impression.
    Thanks again for the great insights!
    Peter

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