Theater Production of “Chinglish” Performed by Chinese 622 Students

To prove his point about the necessity of maintaining a personal relationship with clients, Jungwoo Park ’19, playing an American consultant named Peter, broke out in an passionate rendition of a famous Chinese opera in an attempt to bond with Minister Cai, played by Andy Kim ’19. Park ultimately achieved his goal as Kim excitedly joined him in an awkward, warbling harmony.

For the second time in Andover history, the Chinese-622 class performed David Henry Huang’s play “Chinglish.” This performance was held in the Theatre Classroom during Friday and Saturday evening last week. “Chinglish” explores cultural dissonance: how cultural and language barriers can affect interpersonal communication through the plot of an American businessman’s first trip to China.

Lilia Cai-Hurteau, Instructor and Chair in Chinese & Japanese, said, “When we were working on the play, figuring out why certain things are funny, why certain lines are delivered in certain ways, and [when] reading the play, sometimes it’s not very obvious to us. By performing and practicing, I think the students got to a place where they really appreciated and internalized some of the places why it’s funny, the subtleties in the language, why is it funny but in the way that you can’t really explain.”

Sophia Baum ’19 played the role of Minister Cai in one of the last scenes in the play. Baum found parts of the play about gaps in cultural understanding relevant to experiences she had while visiting China.

“When I went to China I remember seeing various advertisements or clothing with English words that, when put together, simply just did not make sense. I would see mistranslations like these all the time while I was in China,” said Baum.

Mona Suzuki ’19, another member of the Chinese-622 class, said she enjoyed her role as Zhao, a Chinese translator hired for the main character’s business deal. While each student struggled initially to remember all of their lines and the timing of each scene, Suzuki said that they all eventually grew into their roles.

“My favorite part was seeing myself and others slowly get into character… Our class is not a theater class, so not everyone was necessarily good at acting. But as the weeks went by, a lot of us started to show more emotion and really got invested in our roles, and I think witnessing that transition was my favorite part about learning the play,” said Suzuki. Both Baum and Suzuki hope that the play teaches audience members to be more culturally open-minded when meeting people from different countries.

“I hope the audience understands that performing in one’s second or third language is totally possible, and that ‘Chinglish’s’ portrayal of being ‘lost in translation’ is familiar to many of us who either moved countries or started learning a new language. We can all experience forms of miscommunication, but what matters are our attempts to understand and accept all the different languages and cultures around us,” said Suzuki.