THE CHINESE LADY
April 12, 2022
At a time when money could be made by showcasing peculiarities in traveling shows like "The Greatest Show On Earth"Americans demonstrated an appetite for gazing at "exotic" beings. Native Americans, transgender people and peculiar animals held the public's imagination at circuses, and traveling shows.
Capitalizing on this tendency, American importers leased a 14 year-old girl for two years and bring her to America. Displayed for maximum observation, a Afong Moy (the impressive Shannon Tyo) sits inside an observation room depicting her life in China. The time is 1834.
Self-possessed and demure, Afong Moy sits inside what resembles a diarahama of a room in a Chinese house. Penned in like an exotic animal, the presumably first Chinese lady to arrive on our shores depicts "a day in the life of Afong Moy".
Off to the side of the frame, her untrustworthy translator/narrator Atung (a wry, dry witted Daniel K. Isaac) explains what and why she does what she does when brewing tea, walking on bound feet (an endless source of fascination) and eating with what look like knitting needles -- chopsticks.
Time wears on and Afong Moy's license continues, but so does her subservient position. Becoming acclimated to American society, Afong Moy wonders at America's own oddities, like women's corsets, slavery and the financial system. Atung remains by her side explaining America to Afong and China to Americans. Their rapport is disarming, and offer one of the season's most irresistible on stage relationships.
Immaculately directed by Ralph B. Pena for the very fine Mai-Yi Theater Company at the Public Theater, the sets and costumes by Junghyun Georgia Lee assert the fantasy setting built inside a country grappling with very real cultural bias and xenophobia.
The Chinese Lady adds layer upon layer of complexity surrounding identity, decency and the profound human need guiding people in search of a home. Worth every bit of your 75 minutes in the theater.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis