Theatre Mirror Reviews-"Ching'lish"

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note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth


A Review By Sheila Barth

If you’ve stammered and stalled, trying to speak in a foreign language, and received empty or strange stares for your efforts, you must see David Henry Hwang’s hilariously entertaining farce, “Chinglish,” appearing with the Lyric Stage Company through Dec. 23.

Under Larry Coen’s precise, comedic direction, Boston veteran actor Barlow Adamson as Daniel Cavanaugh leads a fabulous bilingual cast (brilliantly coached by Gail Wang) in this timely, contemporary, business-related tale that resonates loudly today. It’s about a busted American businessman, down on his luck, who’s seeking a new start by trying to get a contract from a fast-rising Chinese province, Guiyang, for his defunct, Cleveland sign-making business. It’s a fair exchange. Guiyang’s mayor-minister, Cai Guoliang, wants to enhance his fast-rising city with a cultural-arts center, and needs well-translated, attractive signs to spur his goal.

Citing centuries of mistrust between Eastern and Western worlds, the cultural divide and misunderstandings, a hilarious exchange between interpreters, translators, Chinese officials, and unsophisticated midwesterner Cavanaugh, aided by translations on above-stage monitors, becomes overtly funny and subtly serious. 

What seems to be a mutually beneficial business agreement has politically corrupt underpinnings, including the mayor’s nepotism, intercultural, under-the-table favors, latent ambition, and mutual distrust of both cultures for each other. 

Sprinkle miscommunication and literally terrible translation that makes little or no sense - or better yet - puts a whole new spin on the topic, and it’s outrageous fun.

Oh,did I mention an international love affair, too?   

Cavanaugh hires British interpreter Peter Timms, 19-year Chinese resident  and admired university professor,(whom Alexander Platt portrays with scholastic finesse and frustration)  to translate for him. However, Chinese officials hired their own interpreter(s) for negotiations, creating additional hysterical misconceptions and translations. 

Tiffany Chen in dual roles Miss Qian and Prosecutor Li, and Liz Eng as Zhao are comedic,  young misinterpreters, while Celeste Oliva as  deputy minister Xi Yan is outstanding, straddling her official role while plotting to help Cavanaugh because, she says, she believes he’s honest and sincere. She explains the Chinese are distrustful, yet big gamblers. They also revere big, bad guys, like Enron masterminds Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skillings, regardless of their infamy. When told Cavanaugh was nearly jailed because he was a salesman for Enron, they treat him like a celebrity.

Chen Tang rounds out the cast. portraying dual roles Bing and Xi Yan’s husband, Judge Xu Geming. Award-winning designer Dahlia Al-Habieli’s handsome set, Matthew Whiton’s lighting and Arshan Gailus’ sounds are punctuated by Garrett Herzig’s crucially-important video projected translations.  

“Chinglish” is a delightful merry-go-round of misunderstanding, mistrust, mutual admiration, and mismanagement, and a fun feast for wordsmiths.        

BOX INFO: Two-act, two-hour farce, written by David Henry Hwang, appearing through Dec. 23, with Lyric Stage Company of Boston,140 Clarendon St., Boston. Performances: Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3,8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. Tickets:$25-$58; seniors, $5 discount; student rush, $10; group rates. Call the Box Office at 617-585-5678 or visit

"Ching'lish" (till 23 December)
@ 140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide