THEATER REVIEW: “The Chinese Lady” @ Barrington Stage Company [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Macey Levin
Photograph by Eloy Garcia
The first Chinese woman to arrive in America was Afong Moy in 1834; she was 14 years old. Her father sent her here after receiving a payment from the Carne brothers who exhibited her in the Pearle Museum in New York City. Afong Moy is the protagonist in Lloyd Suh’s The Chinese Lady, which is having its world premiere at Barrington Stage Company’s St. Germain Theatre in Pittsfield.
When the audience enters, a huge packing crate with the label “China Trading Company” completely fills the stage. The crate is opened to reveal a small room decorated in Chinese fabrics and art. Posed in a chair is Afong Moy (Shannon Tyo), who turns to us to tell her story starting with the year 1834. She is assisted by an aloof translator Atung (Daniel K. Isaac). She has learned a routine speech she delivers to welcome American gawkers. Each of the many scenes opens in the same manner with much the same speech noting the change in the date as time moves forward.
In her expository speeches she apprises us of the many differences between Chinese and American cultures. Her people use chopsticks, an elegant tool, whereas, she says, a fork is used to stab food, something she doesn’t understand. She describes how the bones in young girls’ feet are broken so that they may be bound, a status symbol of the elite and a mark of beauty.