Review Roundup: CHINGLISH - All the Reviews!
CHINGLISH is a new comedy about an American businessman arrives in a bustling Chinese province looking to score a lucrative contact for his family's sign-making firm. He soon finds that the complexities of such a venture far outstrip the expected differences in language, customs and manners - and calls into questions even the most basic assumptions of human conduct.
"The U.S. and China are at a critical moment in history-each nation is deeply interested in, but knows very little about, the other," said playwright David Henry Hwang. "CHINGLISH was born from the many visits I've made to China over the past five or six years to witness the exciting changes there. During one visit, I toured a new arts center where everything was first-rate-except for the ridiculously translatEd English signs. It was at that moment that I thought of writing this play."
CHINGLISH will play at the Longacre Theatre making its Broadway premiere following its world premiere production at Goodman Theatre in Chicago this summer. The show began performances on October 11 and opened tonight, October 27. What did the critics thing? Find out now!
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Non-Chinese speakers should have no difficulty interpreting Chinglish...That’s not just because of the helpful supertitles — largely translations of mistranslations, in which English is merrily mutilated, and the principal source of this production’s mirth. Mr. Hwang’s comedy, about a bewildered American businessman hoping to make his fortune in capitalist China, is laid out with the frame-by-frame exactness of a comic strip...Chinglish only rarely achieves the sort of momentum that sends audiences into the ether.
Roma Torre, NY1: The actors, all excellent, sink their teeth into some nicely nuanced roles. Jennifer Lim as the multi-faceted Madame Xi is riveting and bravo to Gary Wilmes whose expressive face alone is worth a million words. The play, intricately plotted and over-written in spots, could use a healthy trimming. But for the most part Chinglish serves as a highly entertaining lesson that no matter how foreign we seem to each other, when it comes to making money, we're really pretty much alike.
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: Hwang has built a bilingual farce about mistranslation that explores the cultural differences between China and America using two languages, and then layered a love story on top of it to illustrate the divide. This is fresh, energetic and unlike anything else on Broadway.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: David Korins’ ingenious set for Chinglish is a marvel of constant reinvention. Its twin turntables spin as panels glide into place and pieces lock seamlessly together to create a series of distinct spaces that have the sterility of business hotels, conference rooms and executive eateries the world over but enough Sino-specific detail to be clear about where we are. The problem is that not everything in David Henry Hwang’s mildly entertaining comedy is as fluid or dynamic as the scene changes.
Matt Windman, amNY: The play's best scenes, in which Hwang pinpoints the difficulty of conveying nuances and double meanings in the course of translation, are blissfully riotous. The other half of the play, depicting Cavanaugh's uneasy, often deceptive relationships with his Mandarin-speaking Australian translator and a Chinese official with whom he has an affair, is far less captivating.
Jonathan Mandell, The Faster Times: What traveler does not have a favorite anecdote about something he heard — or that he said — that was in hysterical error. “Chinglish” captures this comic confusion with considerable clarity, hilarity and élan. “Chinglish” ambushes the audience, delightfully, with a series of little surprises about each character, which I am loath to give away, except to say: Nobody is exactly as they initially appear.
Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: The central comic thesis of "Chinglish" — that Americans and Chinese are doomed to misunderstand each other because of their semiotic incompatibilities — only takes the show so far...But it's the new power structure bubbling below the jokes, Hwang's savvy sense of the evolution in the tools of Chinese seduction and in the nature of Western vulnerability, that gives the show its restless undercurrent.
Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: Any notion of Chinese subservience has been displaced by economic reversals making us debtors to the People’s Republic. Intrigue abounds; jokes resulting from wickedly bad translation are likely as not to be intentional, as competition for Chinese patronage has increased. Lighter in tone than “Butterfly,” “Chinglish” is the product of a more mature dramatic imagination.
Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: In the boardroom or the bedroom, if you get mixed messages or don't translate everything just right, you're sunk. And when you turn that into a cross-cultural bilingual scenario, you amplify everything exponentially. In his topical and playful comedy, "Chinglish," David Henry Hwang does exactly that as he follows an American businessman seeking to sell English signage to a cultural center in the provincial capital of Guiyng, China.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: Under Leigh Silverman's direction, the cast craftily exploits every comic opportunity, and smoothly inhabits David Korins' clever, ever-moving set -- the business hotel is brilliantly bland. The weakest link here is the lead. Wilmes sticks to a single note of befuddled candor, and delivers all his lines as if afflicted with mild stomach pain. Not for one second do we believe a doofus like Daniel used to be a senior manager at Enron.
Linda Winer, Newsday: But the play, which arrives on Broadway after a celebrated premiere in Chicago, is thematically smaller than we anticipate from the form-busting playwright of the 1988 Tony-winning "M Butterfly" and the 2008 Pulitzer finalist "Yellow Face." The lost-in-translation humor soon feels like a one-joke collection we could find in a novelty book.
Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly: If the whole show were simply about getting a laugh out of bad Chinese-to-English signs, it would get really old really quickly. (Of course, one must devote a certain amount of attention to a placard that reads 'F--- the Certain Price of Goods.' That sign should actually read 'Dry Goods Pricing Department' and the convoluted explanation - concerning Communism, Chairman Mao, and the simplification of writing 'beautiful, arcane, devilishly complicated' Chinese characters - is priceless.) And the mistranslations would be silly if they weren't, in fact, true: The play is inspired by the Asian-American playwright's own business trips to China, where he saw a handicapped restroom labeled 'Deformed Man's Toilet.'
Michael Musto, Village Voice:There's a lot of talk in Chinglish and keeping up with it, while always looking to the subtitles, makes for a challenging evening. But it's refreshing to see a play that's so willing to communicate the truth about the potential trickiness involved in cross-cultural communication.
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: "Chinglish" is a one-joke show, the joke being that none of the Chinese characters, the translators very much included, can speak English well enough to make themselves fully understood to Daniel ("I appreciate the frank American style" becomes "He enjoys your rudeness"). The second act is deeper in tone, enough so that you wish the first act had taken more chances. But Mr. Hwang wrings the most out of his one joke, and the results, if slight, are thoroughly satisfying.