I first came across the term Chinglish during a business module class at NBS where my professor was trying to illustrate the importance of international business communication in a dynamic and fast changing business landscape. Since then, instances of Chinglish have been a source of amusement for me, with bad translation and incorrect usage of grammar causing me to break out in hilarious fits of laughter. When Pangdemonium announced that they will be doing David Henry Hwang’s critically acclaimed comedy, I must admit I was pretty hyped. Though I’ve yet to see the play, given the accolades it received at Broadway (where I’m assuming the audience would be less familiar with the East-West divide), I would believe that it should fare even better in a multicultural society like ours, where even our minority communities are able to understand basic phrases of Mandarin and dialects.
Just after the conclusion of The LKY Musical, I took advantage of the early bird offer to purchase a pair of tickets for Chinglish at a 15% discount. I had originally planned to ask a special somebody to catch the comedy together, hoping that it would provide her with some respite from her demanding workload back at school, while I might have an opportunity to improve my standing as a potential date candidate of hers one day. However, heaven’s will dictates that that was not to be, and I was left dateless for the afternoon matinée. I did however win two additional tickets later at a contest by Raffles City Singapore (lucky me), where I was helping out with SATS’ sales of Singapore Airlines Mooncakes at the Market Place. With four tickets now on hand, I decided to forgo any chance of a dreamy romantic date and bring my family for the play instead.
Anyway, Chinglish serves as Pangdemonium’s concluding production for its 2015 Season. It is their first foray into a bilingual play, and Guo Liang’s Singapore theatre debut. The cast included theatre veterans such as Adrian Pang, Daniel Jenkins and Matt Grey, with Audrey Luo and Oon Shu An rounding up the remaining of the highly talented cast. The play opens with Daniel Jenkins’ character (Daniel Cavanaugh) giving a presentation to fellow businessmen about the perils of doing business in China, as well as conquering the differences in the English-Mandarin language barrier. The scene then changes to Cavanaugh’s first experience in China, where he is attempting to conduct business in Guiyang. There, he learns from his “consultant” (Matt Grey as Peter Timms) about guanxi, or forming a network of mutually beneficial relationships, and so begins his adventures in the capital of Guizhou province.
Daniel Jenkins and Matt Grey both put in credible efforts in their respective characters, with the latter having started his pre-production preparations by taking Mandarin lessons a whole year before the show opens. Pang also put in a fine performance as Minister Cai; his mannerisms of a typical Chinese businessman and his surprising accurate enunciation of Mandarin taking much of the plaudits. Audrey Luo was a hint of fresh air, playing three different bungling Chinese business translators, yet able to represent the same nucleus of incompetence and blundering features of each individual character.
The shining star of the performance for me, was probably Oon Shu An’s portrayal of the femme fatale, Vice-Minister Xi Yan. Yes, her delivery in Mandarin wasn’t as spot on as the seasoned speakers of the language such as Guo Liang and Audrey Luo, but she more than makes up for it with her appeal and comedic timing. She also wowed audiences with the more sensual side of hers, disrobing to just a set of sexy black lingerie in the bedroom scene that she shared with Daniel Jenkins. A truly alluring stage seductress gifted with grace, elegance and poise, yet at the same time, showcases enough aloofness and jest required of a comedy.
Other than the performance of the cast, I would like to also praise the set design. The set of Chinglish is one of the best I’ve seen, with a revolving stage floor that allows for a smooth transition from scene to scene while the backdrop is enhanced by multimedia screens that supports the already very impressive stage set.
On a whole, while Pangdemonium’s adaptation of David Henry Hwang’s play would probably not win us a Tony Award, it is still nonetheless a commendable effort by the hardworking and charming cast. Never have I felt so good to be lost in translation.
Chinglish runs from 9th to 25th of October. For more information, visit http://pangdemonium.com/productions/chinglish.