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Review: CHINGLISH at SF Playhouse

Directed by Jeffrey Lo, the show features an excellent ensemble cast and stylish set design.

By: May. 12, 2023
Review: CHINGLISH at SF Playhouse  Image
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SF Playhouse is all in with their take on Tony Award winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist David Henry Hwang's Chinglish: stylish set and lighting, excellent direction, and a strong ensemble cast. While there's plenty of comic moments in Hwang's sardonic commentary on language barriers and the effects of those miscommunications, there's also thoughtful observations on fidelity, corporate and judicial corruption, and even nationalism.

It's easy to find humor in a foreigner struggling with a second language evidences by countless 1930's films with racist stereotypes, but here Hwang elevates that conceit on an intellectual level with American businessman Daniel Cavanaugh (Michael Barret Austin) struggling to nail down a big business deal in China and failing miserably through miscommunications in the boardroom and bedroom.

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Translator Zhao (Xun Zhang), prosecutor Li (Sharon Shao), American sign maker Daniel Cavanaugh (Michael Barrett Austin), and Judge Xu Geming (Phil Wong) take a selfie in San Francisco Playhouse's "Chinglish," performing May 4 - June 10.

Translators are the comic foils here as they misinterpret what's being said. We see the results in supertitles managed by Spenser Matabung projected on to the lovely paper screen set designed by Andrea Bechert. Sharon Shao and Phil Wong are the translators who add their own personal commentary to their work. Matthew Bohrer plays Peter Timms, a teacher posing as a consultant to Cavanaugh who speaks fluent Mandarin.

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Vice minister Xi Yan (Nicole Tung) and American businessman Daniel Cavanaugh (Michael Barrett Austin) discuss the deal over dinner in San Francisco Playhouse's "Chinglish," performing May 4 - June 10.

The well-constructed plot has Nicole Tung's Vice Minister of Culture assisting Cavanaugh's deal for multiple reasons: to expose her corrupt boss and get her husband promoted, and to have an affair with Cavanaugh. Alex Hsu is the corrupt minister Cai Guoliang in a touching performance.

Jeffrey Lo, who directed SF Playhouse hits The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin and Hold These Truths works his magic once again with his staging and attention to the sharp dialogue and exaggerated language failures. Poking fun at Chinese American relations makes Chinglish continually prescient and totally enjoyable.

Chinglish continues through June 10th. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling 415-677-9596.

Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli


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