Theatre Evaluate: ‘The Chinese language Girl’ at Everyman Theatre

Theatre Evaluate: ‘The Chinese language Girl’ at Everyman Theatre

Tuyet Thi Pham as Afong Moy and David Lee Huynh as Atung. Photograph by Kiirstin Pagan Images.

by Lynne Menefee and Herb Merrick

Everyman Theatre is presenting the Baltimore premiere of “The Chinese language Girl,” directed by Nana Dakin. Written by Lloyd Suh, the play follows the story of Afong Moy and her interpreter, Atung, performed respectively and powerfully by Everyman resident firm member, Tuyết Thị Phạm, and Đavid Lee Huỳnh. It’s primarily based on the true story of Afong Moy, deemed the primary documented Chinese language lady to set foot in America in 1834. Two American retailers, Nathan and Frederic Carne, with the assistance of ship captain B.T. Obear, determined to import Chinese language items within the early 1800s and felt that exhibiting a Chinese language lady would would appeal to curiosity of their merchandise. They organized for Afong to go to America along with her father, promising to return her after two years (which they didn’t permit and he or she couldn’t afford to do herself). It was believed she was about 14-19 years outdated (within the play she begins at 14). She couldn’t communicate English at first, however communicated by means of her interpreter, Atung.

…has vital issues to say and leaves an impression that lingers lengthy after it ends.

The general public was charged a small charge and the exhibitions largely occurred in museums, presenting Afong amid Chinese language furnishings, décor, and handicrafts. Via Atung, Afong would clarify Chinese language social customs, use chopsticks to eat Chinese language meals, and generally show her sure toes on a raised pillow or by strolling across the exhibit. These exhibitions have been introduced at varied areas similar to Baltimore’s Peale Museum and included a tour of the nation and a gathering in 1835 with President Andrew Jackson.

The play imagines how Afong Moy might have felt and provides a voice to the historical past of the Chinese language individuals, and others, in a creating America. She is at first hopeful and enthusiastic about her function in creating extra understanding between the 2 cultures. However as time passes, her preliminary fame and the optimistic response by the general public soured as Chinese language immigration grew and he or she turned extra objectified. As she sees the darker facet of the world, she feedback on British and American colonialism and appropriation, the hypocrisy of slavery, and the displacement of the indigenous individuals (the notorious “The Path of Tears”) by President Jackson. She notes the contributions (notably the constructing of the transcontinental railroad) in addition to recorded acts of racism, together with the Chinese language Exclusion Acts starting in 1882, and unspeakable violence as extra Chinese language turned profitable on this nation. After a stint as a P.T. Barnum curiosity, she was changed by youthful import. However in truth, we don’t know what occurred to Atung and after 1851, Mr. Afong disappears from public document.

Mr. Afong speaks to the viewers straight in English as does her interpreter, breaking the fourth wall as if we’re those who’ve paid the charge to gaze upon her. However she sees us too. To start with, there may be stress between her and Atung which supplies some humor and witty interactions. The passing of time is represented by Atung slowly strolling throughout the stage to shut and open the black curtain to a gorgeous set designed by Meghan Raham, setting the Chinese language gadgets off with black, paneled partitions and purposeful lighting design by Emma Deane. Every time, Mr. Afong is in a brand new costume (superbly designed by Debra Kim Sivigny) and tells us the 12 months and her age, location, and feedback American tradition and seminole occasions within the nation and within the lives of the Chinese language immigrants.

Because the years go by, there are additionally poignant moments when she talks about feeling trapped in a field or like an animal in a zoo, of lacking her household, and desires of going to San Francisco and being along with her personal individuals. Atung stays distant and stoic (there are potential causes which can be revealed in Atung’s shocking, fever dream monologue). Throughout the assembly with Jackson, even if she has clever issues to say, Atung dumbs down her responses to the president. The final word humiliation is when Jackson needs to the touch her tiny toes, referencing carnivals and sideshows. Atung’s translation to her is extra sort and protecting.

Like John Leguizamo’s sensible, one-man present, “Latin Historical past for Morons,” that is laborious to look at at occasions. That is yet one more story pulling the curtain again on the darker elements of the founding of this nation. It was typically on the expense of nice, indigenous cultures who, in some ways, have been extra superior than those that colonized them. They have been introduced illness, slavery, and wars in pursuit of land and its riches. It was additionally constructed on the blood and tears of immigrants and slaves, particularly those that didn’t look or sound just like the White Europeans who first settled right here.

Afong Moy was the primary Chinese language lady to work together with People. Regardless of probably her personal struggles, she tried to counteract American stereotypes of Chinese language girls and hoped for extra understanding. It’s heartbreaking on the finish when she says “Maybe if I had been extra worthy of the duty” as if she is answerable for the evil of others. Whereas a lot has modified, a lot has not and all of us should not simply take a look at one another, however actually see one another. “The Chinese language Girl” has vital issues to say and leaves an impression that lingers lengthy after it ends.

Working Time: One hour and half-hour with no intermission.

“THE CHINESE LADY” runs by means of November 19, 2023 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21201. For extra info and to buy tickets, name the Field Workplace at 410-752-2208 Monday by means of Friday, 10 am-4 pm or Saturday, 12 noon-4 pm, or go on-line.

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