Breaking the language barrier in “Chinglish”

(KTSF by Sean Au)

The comedy “Chinglish” which shines a spotlight on the cultural differences between the East and West opens at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre on August 29 before heading to Southern California and Hong Kong.

A businessman from Cleveland tries to expand his business in China by starting at the lesser known city of Guiyang. He employs a westerner consultant to help him navigate the complex communication landscape in China, in order to score a contract to make bilingual signages for the city’s cultural center. Expectedly, the businessman’s plan does not go the way he expected.

Renowned Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang wrote his Tony Award-winning “M. Butterfly” 24 years ago. Since then, his plays have revolved around the theme of communication issues and clashese between different cultures. Hwang believes that it is through his work that he learns more about himself. “In many ways, I’m a very lousy Chinese person because I don’t speak (Chinese) and I didn’t learn very much growing up,” says Hwang. ” And yet it seems like there’s somethings that I understand. Maybe because my parents were immigrants and they passed it down to me whether or not they were intending to.”

Hwangs adds that the scenario depicted in “M. Butterfly” where the westerner in China has superiority over the Chinese, is something that does not exist in China today. “Chinglish” now reflects the new reality where a westerner has to work hard in China to get what he wants, and crossing the communication barrier is one obstacle before one can succeed. “I hope that the audience also walks away with a deeper understanding of how much work it really takes to communicate with people from another culture and human beings in general,” says Hwang.

“Chinglish” opens August 29 in Berkeley and runs till October 7. The play will then travel to Costa Mesa in January 2013 before heading to the Hong Kong Arts Festival.

Ticket details can be found at the Berkeley Repetory Theatre website. Website:

(Copyright 2012 KTSF. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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