BERKELEY — The Tony Award-winning Berkeley Repertory Theatre has kicked off its new season with the West Coast premiere of “Chinglish.”
David Henry Hwang won three Obies and the Tony Award for best play with popular scripts like “M. Butterfly” and “FOB.” Now he’s back with a canny comedy of cross-cultural errors.
Two-time Obie-winner Leigh Silverman returns to the Roda Theatre to stage the twists in a play she took to Broadway. Love is on the line, and laughter fills the ledger in “Chinglish.”
A co-production with South Coast Repertory, where it will play in 2013, “Chinglish” opened in Berkeley on Aug. 29 and runs through Oct. 7.
The executive producers of the local run are Gail and Arne Wagner. For the eighth straight year, BART and Wells Fargo serve as the official sponsors of Berkeley Rep’s season. The season producers are Marjorie Randolph, Jack and Betty Schafer, and the Strauch Kulhanjian family.
“I’m always looking for smart comedies to share with our audience,” says Tony Taccone, artistic director of Berkeley Rep. “David brokers the comic gap between what words mean and how they’re translated. Before our eyes, a delightful farce subtly transforms into a timely and treacherous dissection of two cultures entwined in misunderstanding.
“I’m delighted to welcome David back to the Bay Area, and to bring Leigh — a terrifically talented director — back to our stage with a crackerjack cast and creative team.”
“In a time when Americans both admire and fear the rising power of China, the journey of ‘Chinglish’ has been so gratifying to me,” Hwang comments. “First in Chicago, then on Broadway, I’ve seen non-Asian, Asian American, and Chinese audience members, sitting in a theater, watching a comedy set in today’s China — and laughing together.
“I’m so excited we’re now bringing ‘Chinglish’ to its natural home on the West Coast, which has long understood the often-hilarious mishaps that can occur when East and West meet. I hope Berkeley Rep’s smart and sophisticated audiences enjoy learning to speak ‘Chinglish.’”
In the play, an American businessman heads to Asia to score a lucrative contract for his family’s firm — but the deal isn’t the only thing getting lost in translation as he collides with a communist minister, a bumbling consultant, and a suspiciously sexy bureaucrat.
The Chicago Sun-Times says, “There’s sex, heartache, even a bit of song and dance… Hwang takes a situation that worries most Americans — China’s rise — and the impossibility of understanding each other, particularly in languages as different as Chinese and English, and builds a marvelous comedy.”
Hwang’s plays include “Bondage,” “The Dance and the Railroad” (1982 Drama Desk Award nomination), “Family Devotions” (1982 Drama Desk Award nomination), “FOB” (1981 Obie Award), “Golden Child” (1997 Obie Award, 1998 Tony Award nomination), “M. Butterfly” (1988 Tony Award, 1989 Pulitzer Prize finalist), and “Yellow Face” (2008 Obie Award, 2008 Pulitzer Prize finalist).
He also wrote the libretti for three Broadway musicals: Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” (co-author), Disney’s “Tarzan,” and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Flower Drum Song” (revival, 2002 Tony Award nomination).
In opera, his libretti include four works with composer Philip Glass — “1000 Airplanes on the Roof,” “Icarus at the Edge of Time,” “Sound and Beauty,” and “The Voyage,” as well as Howard Shore’s “The Fly,” Osvaldo Golijov’s “Ainadamar” (two 2007 Grammy Awards), and Unsuk Chin’s “Alice in Wonderland” (Opernwelt 2007 World Premiere of the Year).
Hwang penned the feature films “Golden Gate,” “M. Butterfly,” and “Possession” (co-author), and co-wrote the song “Solo” with Prince. He sits on the Council of the Dramatists Guild, and served on the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities by appointment of President Clinton.
Silverman directed the world-premiere production of Lisa Kron’s “In the Wake” at Berkeley Rep in a co-production with Center Theatre Group. The play went on to The Public Theater, where she received an Obie Award and Lucille Lortel nomination for outstanding direction.
“Chinglish” marks the second time she has premiered a play by Hwang, having previously directed “Yellow Face” at CTG and The Public. Silverman also directed the world premieres of “Beebo Brinker Chronicles” at Hourglass Group/37 Arts, “Blue Door” at Playwrights Horizons and Seattle Repertory Theatre, “Coraline” at MCC/True Love, “Creature” at New Georges/P73, “From Up Here” at Manhattan Theatre Club (Drama Desk nomination), “Go Back to Where You Are” at Playwrights Horizons (Obie Award), “Hunting and Gathering” at Primary Stages, “Jump/Cut” at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company/Theater J and Women’s Project, “Oedipus at Palm Springs” at New York Theatre Workshop, “The Retributionists” at Playwrights Horizons, and “Well” at The Public, the Huntington Theatre Company, and American Conservatory Theater.
She also staged “Wit” in the West End and “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” at Second Stage Theatre.
The West Coast premiere of “Chinglish” features an ensemble of seven talented actors:
· Vivian Chiu (Zhao) was a member of the original company of “Chinglish” on Broadway. A native of Taiwan, her New York credits include “Agamemnon” at Vortex Theater Company, “Limbs: A Pageant” at HERE Arts Center, and an off-Broadway revival of “Night Over Taos,” directed by Estelle Parsons at Intar Theatre.
· Celeste Den (Miss Qian / Prosecutor Li) appeared in the world premieres of “11 Septembre 2001” and “Peach Blossom Fan” at Center for New Performance; “Between Two Friends” and “Island” at Actors Theatre of Louisville; “Spit, Shine, Glisten” at Cotsen Center for Puppetry and the Arts; and “Wild Swans” at American Repertory Theatre and Young Vic Theatre in London.
· Michelle Krusiec (Xi Yian) has appeared in many films from “Sweet Home Alabama” to “What Happens in Vegas.” She is best known for her starring role opposite Joan Chen in the romantic comedy “Saving Face,” which garnered her a nomination for the Chinese Language Oscar, also known as the Golden Horse, for best actress. On stage, she has performed her solo show “Made in Taiwan” at the 2002 HBO Aspen Comedy Arts Festival, the 2003 LA Women’s Theatre Festival, the 2005 New York Asian American Theatre Festival, and the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival and Fringe Encores.
· Austin Ku (Bing /Judge Geming) has performed at the Hangar Theatre, Kansas City Starlight Theatre, the New York Musical Theatre Festival, Ogunquit Playhouse, and Walnut Street Theatre. He also appeared off Broadway and in the new musical “Tokio Confidential.” Locally, Ku has been seen at 42nd Street Moon, Marin Theatre Company, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, San Jose Stage, TheatreWorks, and the Willows Theatre.
· Alex Moggridge (Daniel) portrayed Andrei in Berkeley Rep’s recent production of “Three Sisters.” In the Bay Area, he has performed at ACT, Aurora Theatre Company, Center Rep, the Magic, MTC, San Jose Repertory Theatre, SF Playhouse, and Shotgun Players. His regional credits include shows at Artists Repertory Theatre, B Street Theatre, MCC Theater, Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre, and Utah Shakespeare Festival.
· Brian Nishii (Peter) is a trilingual performing artist from Tokyo. He has collaborated with New York dance and theatre companies such as Crossing Jamaica Avenue, Fluid Motion Theater & Film, Great Jones Repertory Company at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, Imua! Theatre & Film Company, Maura Donohue/In Mixed Company, Project 400 Theatre Group, Robert Wilson, the South Wing, and Velocity Theatre Company.
· Larry Lei Zhang (Minister Cai Guoliang) is an original cast member of “Chinglish.” Locally, he performed in “Don Giovanni Meets Xi-men Qing” at the Chinese Culture Center with San Francisco Opera, “Blue and Black” at the Palace of Fine Arts, and “Long Day’s Journey into Night” at Tao House. A graduate of Shanghai Theatre Academy, his Shanghai credits include “Emperor Romulus” and “Mourning” at Theater Academy, “Mei Lanfang” at the Majestic, and “Yin and Yang” at the Lyceum.
The creative team behind the Broadway production of “Chinglish” reunites for this production: David Korins (scenic design), Anita Yavich (costume design), Brian MacDevitt (lighting design), Darron L West (sound design), Jeff Sugg and Shawn Duan (projection design). The stage manager for this production of “Chinglish” is Michael Suenkel, Berkeley Rep’s resident production stage manager.
Special events during the run of “Chinglish” include the following.
· Teen Night begins at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 7, and includes dinner, a presentation by a member of the artistic team, and a performance of the show. Tickets are only $10 for high school students. For details, call (510) 647-2973 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
· Post-play discussions moderated by theater professionals follow the 8 p.m. shows on Thursday, Sept. 13; Tuesday, Sept. 18; and Friday, Sept. 28. Post-show discussions with Berkeley Rep’s docents take place after all weekend matinees.
· Free 30-minute docent presentations are also offered at 7 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday evening.
Individual tickets start at only $29. Additional savings are available for groups, seniors, students, and anyone under 30 years of age — meaning discounted tickets can be obtained for as little as $14.50. For groups of 10 or more, call (510) 647-2918 or email email@example.com.
The Roda Theatre is located at 2015 Addison St., near bus lines, bike routes, and parking lots — and only half a block from BART. For tickets or information, call (510) 647-2949 or click www.berkeleyrep.org.
Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 8 p.m.
Wednesdays at 7 p.m.
Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Additional matinees at 2 p.m. on Thursdays, Sept. 6 and Oct. 4
No matinee on Sept. 8
No performance on Oct. 5