Monday, October 31, 2011

Talking Chinglish

What would you think if you saw a sign saying "Fuck the certain price of goods"? You probably wouldn't guess that it's a translation of a Chinese sign reading "Dry Goods Pricing Department." This is the jumping off point for Chinglish. Daniel Cavanaugh (Gary Wilmes), an American, sees an opportunity for his company to manufacture signs in Guiyang, China, given that the translations are so often embarrassingly incorrect. Peter Timms (Stephen Pucci), an Englishman fluent in Mandarin is Daniel's consultant. They meet with Minister Cai Guoliang (Larry Lei Zhang) and Vice Minister Xi Yan (Jennifer Lim). In David Henry Hwang's comedy, nobody is exactly who they seem to be.

Hwang and director Leigh Silverman spoke about the play at a digital press event. The characters in Chinglish communicate in both English and Mandarin, and one of the most effective elements of the play is the easy-to-follow translations. Silverman said: "Something that was very important for me as the director was to figure out how we were going to use translation in the play because it's thematically important because our American businessman is selling signage. So the idea of signs and translation and language is very important and I really feel like language and communication is a character in the play. I wanted to figure out how to effortlessly give the audience the chance to understand everything that was happening in the play while also literally watching the action of the play so that it didn't feel like opera. It didn't feel like you had to look outside of the frame. It felt like it was part of the fabric and essentially the DNA of the play were these translations. I think what we learned in Chicago when we did it at the Goodman was in fact the translation portion of it engaged the audience in a way that I think we hadn't expected because literally the audience is the only character who understands everything that's happening, so it gives the audience complete satisfaction in a way to know everything that's being said. Figuring that piece of it out was really crucial in terms of delivering what I feel is the comedy of the play and the fun of the play and the brilliance of the play."

When we saw Chinglish, my friend Emily wondered why the English dialogue wasn't translated into Chinese. At the press event, Silverman said that they are considering options for what they can do with the supertitles, especially if the show tours.

One of the most surprising stories to come out of the press event came from Hwang. In a comic highlight of the play, Angela Lin hilariously plays a very bad translator (I wanted more of her in the play). In another scene, Johnny Wu plays an equally incompetent translator. While this may seem like an exaggeration, Hwang revealed that he had a similar experience when he and Silverman visited Guiyang: "One thing that I really noted from the trip was the quality of interpretation in Guiyang of the interpreters was not particularly high. I was supposed to give a speech to local artists and cultural officials called Artists in the Age of Commerce, in other words, how does an artist operate in a capitalist culture, and they assigned as my translator this very sweet guy, but his only qualification was that he'd lived in London in for a year. He had no capacity to translate any of the ideas that I was talking about and he knew it too and was kind of terrified the whole time. We finally got someone on our team to do the translation and then let him read it, so it all kind of worked out. I feel like I'm actually rather generous to the quality of translators in Guiyang in the play."

Photo credit: Michael McCabe

Contest: Win Tickets to Lysistrata Jones

Update: The contest is now closed. Thank you to everybody who entered. I loved reading all your costume ideas and I'd like to give you all tickets. The winners were picked completely at random from all the entries. Congratulations Amanda S. and dbee!

Trick or treat! I have a treat for you. I'm celebrating Halloween (and my birthday) by giving away TWO pairs of tickets to see Lysistrata Jones on Broadway. In this version of Aristophanes's Lysistrata, the Athens University student Lysistrata Jones dares the basketball squad's girlfriends to stop sleeping with their boyfriends until they win a game. I was bummed when I missed the Transport Group production, which was performed in an actual gym, so I can't wait to see this show. The entire cast of the off-Broadway production is transferring. Since book-writer Douglas Carter Beane did such wonders with the Xanadu book, I'm expecting a fun show. Lewis Flinn wrote the music and lyrics.

In honor of Halloween, tell me in the comments your best theater-related Halloween costume idea. For an extra entry, tweet about the contest or retweet one of my tweets about it. (Please tell me in your entry if you do this. Only one tweet or retweet will count for an extra entry.) TWO winners will be chosen at random (each winner will receive a pair of tickets) on Friday, November 4 at 5 p.m. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle in the comments so I have a way to contact you if you win. Good luck!

Discount offer:
Get special $50 tickets to LYSISTRATA JONES for 12 performances only! Performances begin on November 12!

Visit and enter code LJPVW50

Call: 212.947.8844

Go to the Walter Kerr Theatre box office, 219 W. 48th St. between Broadway and 8th Ave., with this coupon and mention code LJPVW50

*Offer valid on all performances November 11 – November 23, 2011. Certain other blackout dates may apply. Subject to availability and prior. Not valid on previously purchased tickets and may not be combined with other offers. Applicable only to specified performance dates and times. All sales are final; no refunds or exchanges. Valid on select locations only. Seating restrictions may apply. Telephone/internet orders subject to standard service fees. When purchasing at box office, present offer prior to ticket inquiry. Offer may be revoked at any time. Limit 19 tickets per person per week. Offer expires Nov. 23, 2011.

Photos are from the Gym at Judson production

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Milk Like Sugar at Playwrights Horizons

In 2008, the media was buzzing with the story of
a pregnancy pact made by teens in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Kirsten Greenidge was inspired to write Milk Like Sugar, an engaging and enlightening play, which premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in August and opens at Playwrights Horizons on November 1.

Milk Like Sugar starts off light, with Beyonce blasting and three teenage girls at a tattoo parlor, discussing the appeal of certain boys based on their cell phones. But the conversation soon reveals that one of the girls, Margie (Nikiya Mathis), is pregnant, and ecstatic about it, dreaming about Coach diaper bags. She convinces her two friends Talisha (Cherise Boothe) and Annie (Angela Lewis) that they should all get pregnant at the same time, so that they can have a baby shower together.

The story follows Annie, torn between wanting to please her friends and the desire to escape her life and go to college. The appeal of a baby who will love her unconditionally is great for Annie, who feels neglected by her mother Myrna (Tonya Pinkins), but there are various influences--her ambitious crush Malik (J. Mallory-McCree), the tattoo artist Antwoine (LeRoy McClain), her new religious friend Keera (Adrienne C. Moore)--pulling her in every direction--literally illustrated by director Rebecca Taichman in choreographed scene changes.

Pinkins, the big name here, delivers a memorable performance, but the young actors are all ones to watch. It's especially hard to turn away from Lewis when she is on the stage and Mathis gets big laughs as the lovable but dim-witted Margie.

This is an educational piece for someone whose realm of experience is so different from that of these girls, or for vulnerable young girls like the characters portrayed, but Greenidge smartly avoids passing judgment.


Order by October 25 and use the code MILKGR
$40 (reg. $55) for all performances Oct. 13-Nov 20

Call: (212) 279-4200 Noon to 8PM daily
In Person: Ticket Central Box Office, 416 W. 42nd Street

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What I Did Last Night

Last night, I went to ANT Fest at Ars Nova for the first time. This is the fourth year of the festival dedicated to emerging artists. From October 18 through November 19, you can see concerts, sketch comedy, musical theater, and more for $10 a ticket.

Last night's show was called Ant Tunes, featuring musical excerpts from Lightning Man and Mortality Play. Lightning Man, with music by Jeffrey Dennis Smith, lyrics by Shoshana Greenberg (full disclosure: she's a friend of mine) and Katya Stanislavskaya, and book by Maggie-Kate Coleman, is based on the true story of a seven-time lightning strike survivor who commits suicide at the age of 71. Mortality Play, with music by Scotty Arnold and lyrics by Alana Jacoby, is about a young wannabe rock star trying to find his place in 1349 London.

The shows are not open to review, but I can say that if last night's show is any indication, there will be a lot of up-and-coming talent at Ars Nova in the next few weeks. As a bonus, Ars Nova has cheap drinks and snacks, so your whole evening of entertainment may end up being cheaper than a night at a bar. You can see the complete lineup here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Contest: Win Tickets to Standing on Ceremony

Update: The contest is now closed. Thank you to everybody who entered. The winner was picked completely at random from the entries. Congratulations to Randi!

Neil LaBute. Wendy MacLeod. Moisés Kaufman. José Rivera. Paul Rudnick. Doug Wright. Mo Gaffney. Jordan Harrison. Jeffrey Hatcher. This group of playwrights has two Pulitzer Prizes, four Obies, one Emmy, and three Tony nominations. They also wrote the seven short plays that make up Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, which starts previews on November 7 at the Minetta Lane Theatre. The plays star Craig Bierko, Mark Consuelos, Polly Draper, Beth Leavel, Richard Thomas, and Harriet Harris.

A portion of all ticket sales will be donated to Freedom to Marry and other organizations promoting marriage equality. I'm very excited to give away a pair of tickets to a show that supports this important cause. To be entered to win, write a comment on this post about why you want to see the show (a description of each play can be found here). For an extra entry, tweet about the contest or retweet one of my tweets about it (only one tweet or retweet will count for an extra entry). The winner will be chosen at random on Friday, October 28 at 5 p.m. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle in the comments so I have a way to contact you if you win. Good luck!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

When Steve Jobs died on October 5 at the young age of 56, my Twitter feed was filled with messages about him, all positive. I think that's the first time I saw so many Twitter reactions completely without snark. People clearly felt a strong connection to this man. Monologist Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs started previews at the Public Theater a week later, on October 11, and opened last night (he has performed the show around the country). Jobs's death was incorporated into the show (Daisey doesn't work with a set script), but his look at the man and the company he created is no less critical.

It helps that Daisey is an Apple aficionado. He was one of the people who worshipped at the house of Jobs, but then one day he saw photos mistakenly left on iPhone taken by workers at a Chinese factory to test the camera on the phone. He began to wonder about the origins of his phone. He went to Shenzhen in China and visited Foxconn, the world's largest electronics manufacturer. He explains the conditions at the factory--the cafeteria, the dormitories, the nets used as a response to mass suicides, breaking up the stories about his own experiences in China with the history of Apple.

Two hours is a long time to listen to one man speak, but anyone who has seen Daisey perform (which I hadn't until last week) knows what a dynamic presence he is. Looking a bit like a cartoon character sitting behind his desk, constantly wiping his sweaty brow, shifting between a gentle and loud voice, he commands attention. The production, directed by his wife Jean-Michele Gregory, is simple, with Daisey sitting behind a desk, and not much more is needed. Suspense is added by Seth Reiser's lighting.

Daisey speaks about hearing the news of Jobs's death in a surprisingly moving end: "He was my hero. He was the only hero I ever had." As the audience wandered out of the theater, I overheard many grappling with turning on their beloved iPhones, but at the end of the day, this show is probably not going to make anyone give up technology or iProducts. And that's not what Daisey is advocating. What it will do is educate. And that's a good first step. (Flyers are handed out at the end of the show with more information about what you can do if you are compelled to take action.)

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Friday, October 07, 2011

Following Up With The Tempest Ladies

Remember when I told you about The Tempest Ladies? If that profile piqued your interest, the theater troupe released two videos of their production of The Tempest and are in the process of scheduling tour dates across the country. While you wait for the chance to see them live, watch the teaser:

The Tempest - Teaser from Tempest Ladies on Vimeo.

and the full trailer:

The Tempest - Trailer from Tempest Ladies on Vimeo.