Can a mid-western family-businessman expect success in the vast Chinese market? Daniel Cavanaugh is disillusioned when he quickly realizes the language barrier is perhaps the smallest of his hurdles. Business practices, culture, customs and government involvement all thwart Cavanaugh’s immense faith in himself.
The artists at The Fox didn’t know how hard it could be. Just as a businessman in China has difficulties learning the culture, so too does an American theater company producing a play with Chinese characters and themes. We chose Chinglish in part out of narcissistic self-confidence, but also because it is the right show to do at the right time. When we chose it over a year ago, we suspected that early 2017 might be a fine time to reflect on America’s place in the global economy and how to begin to find out what we don’t know.
We didn’t know how to speak Mandarin. We received early advice from our friends at Theatre Esprit Asia and now have six Mandarin speakers in the cast.
We didn’t know anything about the Chinese bureaucracy. Now we have an amazing dramaturg, Philip Beck, who was immersed in the architecture boom working for Chinese firms with foreign investors under the watch of party officials.
We didn’t know how to perfect the comic rhythms in two languages and subtitles. Now we have director, Steve Wilson, actors Mark Rubald and Ke Zang, and El Armstrong’s nimble projections. The result is a hilarious linguistic circus act.
We didn’t have guanxi. To poorly translate, guanxi means relationship. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guanxi . Through the careful and respectful cultivation of our new relationships, the Aurora Fox may just be starting to have guanxi with the Chinese.
We have had a long relationship with you; come to the theater and let us make introductions.
By Charles Packard
Don’t miss the regional premiere of “Chinglish” by David Henry Hwang. Opening March 24 on the Fox Main Stage. Tickets at www.aurorafox.org or call 303.739.1970.