“Chinglish”: Translators, Business Deals and Secret Love Affairs

After only one rehearsal on the afternoon of the performance, 11 students performed a stage reading of contemporary playwright David Henry Hwang’s bilingual play “Chinglish,” directed by Michaela Barczak ’15.

Stage readings are a form of theatrical performance in which actors read the lines of a play while sitting on stage, placing emphasis on the lines and emotions, rather than on movement.

Last year, stage readings were a new addition to the Theatre Department. Campus conversations about race inspired Barczak to direct this particular stage reading, which was held in the theater classroom last Friday.

“I’ve been talking to [Allen Grimm, Instructor in Theatre,] about doing shows that could involve more people in the theater community, introduce the possibility of different races and how we [would] want to involve that, because on this campus, there have always been [talks about race],” said Barczak.

“Chinglish” chronicles the adventure of American businessman Daniel Cavanaugh, who has come to Guiyang, China, in hopes of acquiring a business deal. While a strict minister named Cai Guoliang attempts to thwart Daniel’s plans, Cai’s vice-minister, Xi Yan, charms Daniel and the two begin a secret love affair. Xi only seduces Daniel, however, to help him take down Cai and to ensure that her husband can become mayor.

The production was bilingual, with a majority of the lines spoken in Chinese. Nicole Durrett ’17 read translations of the Chinese lines so that all audience members could understand the performance.

Many of the characters in the play were translators, and their mistranslations differed from the accurate translations that Durrett read, adding humor to the show.

“I really liked the idea of the translators who would mess up the translations. It was fun when there were moments [in which] all the actors would get a rhythm and there was no awkward pause waiting for a translator, or whose turn it is to speak, and they were just going as if it was a scene. Someone would talk and get the energy up. It really captivated the audience, too,” said Barczak.

“What’s really interesting is how with Xi and Daniel, even though Xi’s English is horrible, [they] still [got] their ideas across without translators. This goes to show that the culture gap between any [two] cultures is there and you can’t just cross over and see [things that are just] on the surface. You really have to dig deeper and try to get to know the culture,” said Alexandria Ma ’17, who played the character of Prosecutor Li in the play.

Throughout his escapades, Daniel struggles to navigate the Chinese business world and communicate with the Chinese people, leading to information being “lost in translation.”

“This play deals with [the theme that] a lot is lost in translation from one culture to another. This play points [out] the significance of the place where we were born, [which is] deeply ingrained into your consciousness and so hard to step out of,” said Tom Burnett ’15, who played Daniel.