The Chinese Lady

Review by Munson Kwok

This review is reposted courtesy of the CACA Times of Southern California, a bi-monthly publication of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance Los Angeles Lodge. Written by Munson Kwok in September 2019.

The talk of the summer among our community lovers of the arts seem to be the play The Chinese Lady, a significant work by Lloyd Suh which has finally made its way westward to the Pacific Coast. Nicely staged by Artists at Play at Fairfax High’s Greenway Court Theater, the strategic promotion in the Chinese American and Asian American communities was hugely amplified by word-of-mouth, truly a measure of success. Suh’s opus premiered at the Ma-Yi Theater in New York City in November 2018. AAP’s version was tightly directed by regional theater director Rebecca Wear and spectacularly performed by actress Amy Shu as “The Lady.”  Indigenous to the play’s success is the clever set, a kind of tableaux-in-a-box such as that often used in miniatures. In this cubic containment, the “Lady” performs her little cultural show as part of a 19th Century sideshow in the style often seen at those old-time World’s Fairs. 

Suh uses the woman and her show as a pathway or instrument from the performance present of 1834 into the future, which became some of the most painful episodes of Chinese American history under Exclusion.  It enables him to comment on relationships between erstwhile superiors and subordinates, the trial and tribulations of immigrants in America, and, truly the lady’s comments in her transits through time, the literal abuse and endurance of Chinese in America. Throughout unfortunately, there are the echoes that relate directly to experiences of today, if not directly against Chinese Americans but against other ethnic and national groups in this country.

Suh must be congratulated for devising an extremely clever artifice and then managing the words, the dialogue, to present a serious history lesson that is palatable, memorable, while provocative. This successful play uses comedy; it is enjoyable.  But the message of history underlying is unmistakable.