The Chinese Lady By LLOYD SUH Directed by RALPH B. PEÑA Co-Production with BARRINGTON STAGE COMPANY and MA-YI THEATER COMPANY July 20-August 11 St. Germain Stage Pittsfield, MA In 1834, Afong Moy is brought to the United States from Beijing and put on display for the American public as the “Chinese Lady.” For many years, she performs in a sideshow that both defines and challenges her own view of herself. Inspired by the true story of America’s first female Chinese immigrant, playwright Lloyd Suh spins a tale of dark poetic whimsy in this piercing portrait of America as seen through the eyes of a young Chinese woman.
I had the absolute pleasure of traveling 3-hours outside of NYC to see my friend Daniel K. Issac perform in a show called “The Chinese Lady” at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA. I really didn’t know what I was getting into, but I knew it was going to be memorable and it lived up to my expectations.
The show began with a shipping container on the stage which opened up to a “display case” style room with Afong Moy, played so beautifully by Shannon Tyo. We quickly learn about the history of how real life Afong Moy has come to be living on display. She was the first Chinese person to come to America in 1843 and was treated as an act to show Americans what a Chinese person looked and lived like. Her assistant and translator, Atung, played by Daniel K. Issac, was with her the entire time to provide her with her daily meal and translations. Throughout this play, we witnessed the emotions of Afong Moy as she struggles with her life and the place she has been put in. Wanting to teach Americans that we are all the same, but beautifully different, while struggling through translation and getting her dreams across.
Shannon Tyo put on one of the most impressive performances I have witnessed in my many years at the theater. She kept my attention while giving heartfelt, strong, and impressively long monologues opening my eyes to a side of history I knew nothing about.
Daniel K. Issac kept the energy of the show up with his whimsical responses and cheerful expressions. When it was his turn to provide us with more detail about Atung, we were taken to a darker side of a more emotional ride.
The show was incredibly powerful. Director, Ralph B. Pena, took on a story and put it in front of a difficult audience of western Massachusetts folk. The staging was simple but strong.
The Chinese Lady will be coming to NYC this fall and I recommend it for anyone who wants a glimpse at a piece of history that has been forgotten. You will come away from it wanting to know more about Afong Moy and her part of history which relates so much to the world we currently live in. Go see this show.
Congratulations to the entire team of “The Chinese Lady”!