Move over Singlish, there’s a new language in town.
Chinglish | chīng-glìsh | :
A blend of the Chinese and English language.
A devilishly comedic Pangdemonium production fuelled by hilarious mistranslations, highly comical characters, and, more poignantly, cultural differences that subtly yet hysterically highlights the dichotomy between two powerhouses (China and America).
Written by Tony Award winner David Henry Hwang, this play reflects upon the emerging relations between America and China, and in particular, how an American businessman, Daniel Cavanaugh (Daniel Jenkins) tries to navigate China’s intricate and secretive world. He does his best to cultivate guān xì (quite literally, relationship) with his potential business partners: minister Cai (Adrian Pang) and his vice-minister Xi Yan (Oon Shu An). What then unfolds is a series of unfortunate, yet hilariously comedic events.
Admittedly, I had my reservations with regards to how well the actors and actresses were able to tackle the accent component of the play. After all, it is no easy feat to perfectly imitate all the nuances and subtleties of a foreign accent and also having to act well with it. It was thus a pleasant surprise when the main cast did exactly that, despite working with a language that most of them were not intimately familiar with. (Fun fact: Adrian Pang flunked his A-level Chinese.)
Despite playing a minor role, Audrey Luo truly shines through in this play, doing a wonderful job in her portrayal of three different characters! (Check out our interview with her here) Her role as the translators would leave one in bouts of laughter, from her ridiculous mistranslations bringing about much miscommunications and confusion onstage, along with the vibrant and boisterous way that she portrays all her characters. Each character has their own unique aspect, in spite of majority of their lines being simply translations of other characters’ lines.
The set itself was quite unique – no spoilers here, but be prepared for more than the usual blackouts and speedy stagehands during set changes. The use of the multimedia screen as part of the set was used quite cleverly as well. Not only does it show the proper translations, it is also used to enhance the change in settings, or as a preamble to the next scene, all of which was executed very nicely.
One aspect that fell a bit flat, however, would be the slightly awkward acting of Jenkins. In portraying his character as an American lost in translation in a foreign land, he perhaps does his job too well, and the resulting effect would be that of a foolish, fumbling American businessman who (pardon my language for a lack of better word) comes off as an idiot. The bedroom scene was meant to be steamy, I’m sure, but instead, his flat character and the awkward chemistry between him and Oon made the entire episode extremely cringe-worthy. His characterization may be intentional, but perhaps Jenkins could have inserted more subtleties into his acting such that more facets of his character could be explored, instead of playing to the stereotype of the ignorant American.
Of course, this play isn’t just all fun and games. At the climax, the crux of the issue was brought out very poignantly and beautifully. Oon’s character says to the very confused Daniel Cavanaugh, “I don’t think there’s a word for it in English”, which then encapsulates the play’s main idea of how mistranslation is not the only complication at hand. Instead, amidst all the hilarity, there is the real and prominent issue of the cultural differences between two vastly different countries. It also effectively erases, or at least, gives us a lot to ponder about with regard to the usual stereotypes that we attribute to the Mainland Chinese. In particular, in the Singaporean context, it certainly gives us food-for-thought, as this theme fits in nicely within our multi-racial and cultural society, reminding us that there is more than meets the eye behind the many stereotypes.
Unfortunately, Chinglish tickets are all sold out. To anyone lucky enough to have gotten tickets to this show, enjoy yourselves! To everyone else, fret not, Pangdemonium has already released its early bird tickets for its Season of Love next year, and judging by this production, it will not disappoint. Be sure to catch it!
Written by: Ho Seewah