Comedic Performance “Chinglish” Reflects on Engaging in Business With Language Barriers

Audience members were enraptured by the comedic yet beautiful linguistical disconnections that lied at the heart of “Chinglish.”

The cast of “Chinglish” put on an interactive and engaging performance in the Underwood Room over May 17 and 18. The play, which had live subtitles, operated in both Chinese and English and told the story of a complicated business deal between businessmen who had a language barrier between them.

After preparing and rehearsing for the show throughout the duration of Spring term, Frank Hu ’26, who played an American businessman, described his excitement in showcasing the group’s work. He highlighted how the play emphasized the disconnect that can happen between languages and cultures.

“[The mistranslations] are kind of beautiful, and the whole point was that we still don’t really understand each other too well. Although it’s a struggle, it’s also a sign of the beauty of life and the different cultures,” described Hu.

For Hu, “Chinglish” provided a unique platform to explore language dynamics. He noticed a wide range of audience reactions, specifically between English-only speakers, and those fluent in both English and Chinese.

“This kind of bilingual play is really niche. I think it’s definitely the first time that I’ve seen, like, live subtitles being played out and for it being a bilingual show, it’s definitely really interesting seeing how people who only speak English versus people who are bilingual in both English and Chinese come to understand the jokes in the show, so I think that’s something that was really special about ‘Chinglish,’” said Hu.

Similar to Hu, audience members resonated with the play’s in-depth exploration of multilingualism. Magdalena Mercado ’24 attended the show because she was curious to see how the show would play out, expressing her interest in how people from different languages could connect nonetheless.

“I’m very close to people on the cast, both cast members and also the person that directed it, Dr. Tsai, but I also was really interested because I really wanted to see what the play was about. It talked about the experience of being multilingual… and how regardless of language barriers or not being able to speak either language, you still could still develop relationships and connections and friendships with people nonetheless, so it was actually pretty good, I enjoyed it,” said Mercado. 

While the cast was small, Mercado was impressed by the seamless performances of the cast. The cast of the show indirectly interacted with the live subtitles, which made her watching experience overall more engrossing

“The biggest thing that stood out to me was everybody was really good at playing their respective roles. The cast was pretty small, it was probably ten people, if not less. Every scene they would put on a different person or they would put on the slide show that was broadcasting on the screen with live subtext. They had the individual descriptions for each of the characters and what they were and what they do and what age they are. So that provided the audience with insight on what the people were supposed to be doing, how they’re supposed to be acting, and they were good at filling those rules,” said Mercado.

Nina Torrens ’26, appreciated the humorous aspect of the show as a factor in conveying the overall message of overcoming language barriers. She elaborated on her takeaways from watching the play.

“I really liked the parts where they were at a conference because one of the characters is an American and he’s trying to do business in China and the translators were purposefully really bad and they would put translations on the screen of what they were actually saying and sometimes they were really funny. The struggles of doing business in another country where you don’t know the language was definitely a major theme, and that you can always persevere. At first, the main character was struggling with finding deals and not getting scammed because of the language barrier and he ended up doing really well,” said Torrens.

Torrens agreed with Mercado, applauding the cast members for fully committing to their parts and executing their roles with professionalism, particularly noting their ability to maintain character even during the funniest moments. 

“They all really got into it and really played their parts. Since it was a comedic play, it was definitely more fun for them to do and they all did a really good job staying in character and not breaking out laughing, even in the funniest moments when everyone else was laughing,” said Torrens.