Our Geek Gal and Theater Diva Caroline Cao reviews another playwright find!
Playing at the Public Theater, Soft Power is a rebuke against the Western tendencies for works like King and I to exoticize Asian people and their culture and depict them in need of saving from their barbarism nature. But this time, America is the butt of the exoticism in Hwang’s pages.
Soft Power begins as a straightforward play about Hwang debating with a Shanghai producer, Xuē Xíng (Conrad Ricmora, but I received understudy Billy Bustamante that night), on how to end a musical that appeals to their Chinese audience. Chinese-American Hwang has the Western idea: The husband chooses to leave his wife. Xuē argues for the Chinese idea of piety: The man stays with an unhappy marriage.
All this happens as the 2016 presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (Alyse Alan Louis) is simmering. Hwang shares his anticipation with Xíng that Clinton will be declared president, but we know things will go to Hell and Trump will take the presidency. Then Hwang is stabbed, right in the middle of a monologue about how terrible things happen to Asian characters, an event directly ripped from a real-life stabbing of Hwang that remains unresolved to this day.
Playwright David Henry Hwang’s Soft Power is an inversion of the west meets-east genre, namely The King and I, which is invoked by Hwang’s stage avatar (Francis Jue) as a problematic—orientalist—piece of material. It’s not the first time Hwang has experimented with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s past with depicting Asian culture through white filters. Hwang also penned a revised Flower Drum Song by recontextualizing the tale through his Chinese American lens and smoothing over the stereotypical products.
Want more? Read the full review at Caroline’s site, maximinalist.wpcomstaging.com.