THE CHINESE LADY
October 19 - November 14, 2021
Portland Center Stage: Ellyn Bye Studio
By Lloyd Suh
Directed by Lava Alapai
The Chinese Lady tells the story of fourteen-year-old Afong Moy as she’s brought to the United States from Guangzhou Province in 1834. Allegedly the first Chinese woman to set foot on U.S. soil, she has been put on display for the American public as “The Chinese Lady.” For the next half-century, she performs for curious white people, showing them how she eats, what she wears, and the highlight of the event: how she walks with bound feet. As the decades wear on, her celebrated sideshow comes to define and challenge her very sense of identity.
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“…we’re asked to consider whether cultural sharing is an inevitable gateway to bloody conquest, and to observe the mechanics by which American optimism sours and spoils.”
Barbie Wu is extraordinary as Afong. Her speech is delicate and modulated to please, her every gesture graceful. She continues to smile as she visibly ages before us. And yet, with each year, the content of her speech changes as reality dawns. Irony creeps in, and with it a grim acceptance.
You’ll become mesmerized by Wu’s skill in creating a layered, paradoxical and sometimes curiously optimistic Chinese character.
Director Lava Alapai’s deft touch and her superb two-person cast deliver a 75-minute ride of gentle comedy and bitingly current cultural commentary that leaves the audience thoroughly entertained, edified, and shaken by closing curtain.