David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish looks at the crossover between the Westernised and Chinese cultures, both in business, in marriage and in dedication to one’s partner. For all it promotes itself as a light-hearted comedy, there are some deeply rooted messages about the differences between the two traditions and the arrogance of Western society to assume that China will simply conduct itself in accordance with Anglo-American customs.
Riffing on the chuckles that come from mistranslated menus and signs (I swear, it is one of my favourite things to do in touristy abroad), Chinglish follows the efforts of an American businessman trying to break into the Chinese market by providing accurately translated signage.
Chinglish was first staged in on Broadway in 2011, and is set in Guiyang (pop four million). Daniel Cavanaugh, an American who heads a firm of Ohio sign-makers, wants to secure a deal with a local cultural centre, whose public signage has been rendered ridiculous by gross mistranslations into English: “Deformed Man’s Restroom” instead of Disabled Toilet.
You know those badly translated Chinese signs you see on the internet, where something inoffensive in Chinese turns out to mean “Fuck Vegetables” in English? That’s the starting point for the Park Theatre’s new play Chinglish.