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A CurtainUp Review
The mission of the Silk Road Theatre Project is to expand an audience's ideas of multiculturalism by showcasing on the American stage the underrepresented voices of writers from Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. These regions make up the historic Silk Road trading route and the company uses this to symbolize their desire to increase exposure and communicate new ideas. Founded in 2002, and with a residence at the Chicago Temple, this young theater company is expanding rapidly and has secured the funding and support of many large organizations and sponsors.
Silk Road's r current offering is the Midwest premiere of David Henry Hwang's 1997 OBIE-award winning Golden Child. Directed by Stuart Carden it's an ambitious production that does suffer some growing pains but also proves the company's potential to deliver great material in the future.
Golden Child is a story of a family struggling with change across several generations. It opens in contemporary America with Andrew, a Chinese-American man anxiously facing fatherhood and dreaming of his grandmother, Ahn. As reminds him of the importance of family and tradition we are whisked into a flashback to her youth in China where the play's main action is set. The time 1918 and young Ahn's father, Eng Tieng-Bin, is a wealthy merchant who's been away in the Philippines on business. Ahn's mother is Siu-Yong. As, Eng's first wife she runs the household in her husband's absence and supervises his two other wives, Luan and Eling. The three wives bicker constantly, keenly aware of their relative status. Second wife Luan, craves First Wife's power. Eling, the lowly third wife, is young, sweet and truly in love with her husband.
When Eng Tieng-Bin returns to his village, he brings with him the influence of the West. He ushers in progress first with household gadgets, then with new ideas and beliefs. He wants change, like have only one wife (a wife he's chosen for love) and end the Chinese tradition of foot binding. His most radical idea is to trade his culture's ancestral worship for Christianity and to do so brings an English pastor into his home to instruct him and his family.
Each wife has her own reaction to the proposed changes; all fear the impact of Eng's new beliefs. It takes tragedy for Eng to learn that growth comes with a price. It is only young Ahn who is able to truly accept progress and move on. She is the "golden child" who can balance the loss and the gain.
David Henry Hwang's script is based on true events from his family's history. It is both a loving recreation of a story and an insightful look at cultural shifts throughout history. Because Hwang made himself available to Silk Road Theatre Project and worked with them throughout the discovery and rehearsal process, the interpretation of his play is clear, intelligent and heartfelt. Meticulous attention to detail is reflected in the authentic and beautifully designed environment.
Carol J. Blanchard's costumes contrastthe traditional Chinese fashions of richly colored Chinese silks with the bland whites and plain solids of the cotton ensembles that the family adopts after their conversion to Western ways. Blanchard was able to cleverly mimic the appearance of bound feet for the wives and thus communicate visually the separation between the confinement of the old ways and the potential freedom of the new.
Lee Keenan's simple scenery consists mostly y of enclosed beds for the three wives. Decorated with curtains, the beds implied a larger pavilion for each wife to have her personal space. The action moves in and out of the private living areas, with communal actions taking place in an unspecified area at the center of the stage. The curtains were useful in enabling flexible transitions between scenes and allowed characters to enter and exit with less distraction. A constellation of red lanterns over the farthest upstage area provides a lovely glow.
Director Stuart Carden has skillfully integrated story and design elements. Scenes with the wives praying at their family altars, welcoming home their husband, and heralding the arrival of Pastor Baines were particularly effective and allowed the performers to wordlessly communicate much about their characters. These outstanding scenes stood in strong contrast to the more static business of character and plot exposition Eng and his wives at dinner, Ahn and her mother in her pavilion. These often slow and too weighed down with presentational delivery tende to feel choppy and disconnected.
Golden Child marks Silk Road's first Equity production, but the quality of the non-union performers certainly matched that of the professional actors. Consequently this is a true ensemble piece with no single cast member outshining another. As Siu-Yong, the first of Eng's wives, Cheryl Hamada conveyed authority and gave the role a powerful physical presence. Tiffany Villarin's sweet Eling, the third and youngest wife, made a nice contrast to Siu-Yong's imperial demeanor. She truly captured the naive, blushing coquettishness of a woman in love. Kimberlee Soo's Yuan, the shrewd and calculating second wife, did an excellent job of "fixing her face" from a cranky scowl to meek smiles of humility. She was the only one of the wives whose delivery of the play's language — modern English representing early 20th century Chinese — did not feel anachronistic. Melissa Kong as Ahn was perhaps more effective as an old woman than a young girl. YoungAhn felt occasionally cartoonish in her exuberance, while Kong's physical transformation into grandmother was total and precise.
The cast's two lone males held their own— Vic Chao brought to the family patriarch's role the right mix of conflicted family leader and traditionalist moving into the new age. His chemistry with Tiffany Villarin felt genuine, which made the love scenes romantic and poignant. Kevin Kenneally as the clueless Christian missionary Baines is ideally cast for conveying the image of the stereotypical "white demon" in the minds of a rural Chinese family in 1918. He brilliantly internalizes the stammering dialogue (representing his character's broken Chinese) so that it feels t natural.
Golden Child ends back in contemporary America, in the bedroom of Andrew and his sleeping, pregnant wife. His vivid dream has been an awakening for him, and his child will be an opportunity for him to honor his cultural heritage. In many ways, Silk Road Theatre Project is on a similar journey of creation and balance.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide