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Chinglish

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“Chinglish” is what it’s called when the spoken or written English language is mixed, mashed, modified, or mutilated with or by the Chinese language."Chinglish," typically used as a pejorative or depreciative term, is also referred to as “Sinicized English,” “Chinese English,” or, simply, “China English” – and is, usually, ungrammatical or nonsensical in quality, if not intent.

Chinglish is also the title of Tony-Award Winning dramatist David Henry Hwang’s 2011 play, now in production at Costa Mesa’s South Coast Repertory Theatre, through February 24.  And what an enjoyable entertainment it is watching Hwang’s exploration of modern-day ethnic and linguistic divisions. Hwang’s clever conceit makes it clear: Even with rapid advancements in technology, those ancient and deeply ingrained cultural chasms separate us as much, or more, today than the Tower of Babel ever portended.

The play is about Daniel Cavanaugh (an ingratiating Alex Moggridge). Daniel is now in charge of his Cleveland-based family business, a signage design company, and currently has the opportunity to land a lucrative contract in China, where sign messages too often are mangled due to poor or inaccurate translations.

For instance, English speaking tourist and business travelers are likely to encounter such sign alerts as “Slip Carefully,” meaning “Don’t Slip” or “Deformed Man’s Toilet”, for “Handicapped Restroom,” or “The Civilized and Tidy Circumstance is a Kind of Enjoyment,” for “Don’t Litter.” But Daniel ignores what is taught as the first and last rule of doing business in China: Always bring your own translator. Instead, he enlists the services of Peter (a surprisingly solid Brian Nishii), an English ex-pat who’s been teaching English in China for the last twenty years, as his translator.  Further, Daniel forgets another unwritten rule of business, whether local or global: don’t mix work with romance.

When Daniel falls for the ambitious Chinese bureaucrat, Xi Yan (a beautifully lean and fully comical Michelle Krusiec), complications ensue. Not only does Daniel have a wife and children back home in Ohio, Xi Yan is married to a Chinese judge and party official. Amidst the lovers’ assignations and the sales' negotiations, playwright Hwang details the social and verbal schisms that exist in this age of instant communications and globalization. Saying what you mean and meaning what you say is easier said than done in this era of internationalism. Is it any wonder that world politics is such a diplomatic minefield, regularly exploding, literally and figuratively, with misunderstandings, misalliances, and missed opportunities?

Directed by Leigh Silverman, with state-of-the-art efficiency, and aided by extraordinary production values, David Korins’ set design works like a well-oiled machine, with no detectable effort or strain. Brian MacDevitt’s lighting motif, Darron L. West’s sound-scape, and Nancy A. Palmatier’s costumes [based on Anita Yavich’s original concepts] all serve to enliven and enrich this show.

Chinglish’s success, in addition to Hwang’s thoughtful and pertinent script and Silverman’s dynamic direction, is in no small part due to the crafty cast of seven actors. Not only are several members of the ensemble required to speak their dialogue in Mandarin and English (easily read subtitles are inventively used here), all performers demonstrate good sense of dramatic and meticulous comedic timing, as well as emotional authenticity – including Raymond Ma as Minister Cai; Austin Ku as Bing and as Judge Geming; Celeste Den as Miss Qian and as Prosecutor Li; and Vivian Chiu as Zhao.

For anyone interested in the ever-changing state of socio-economic affairs of our diverse planet, packaged as believable business transactions and genuine human interactions, Chinglish is a smart and relevant effort meant for more mature audiences.

Chinglish continues at South Coast Repertory through February 24. The theater is located at 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Matinees are at 2:30 Saturdays. For reservations, call (714) 708-5555. For online ticketing and further details, visit www.scr.org.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.