Thursday, January 31, 2013

Unapologetically Anastasia

Anastasia costume design by Jessica Olson.
By Kimberly Colburn

Ten-year-old Anastasia Krupnik wants to be a writer someday. She keeps a journal and faithfully records her ever-changing, innermost likes and dislikes along with poems, drawings, and whatever else might strike her fancy. She’s intuitive and precocious, but not always the best listener.

Already struggling with a teacher she doesn’t like, Anastasia is having one of her worst days ever at school as the play begins. She’s worked super-hard on her poem for Creativity Week. First Robert and then Traci read their poems out loud to the class. Even though she thinks their poems aren’t any good, Anastasia realizes hers is very different from their poems. Of course, awful Mrs. Westvessel calls on Anastasia next.

Trapped, Anastasia reads her poem as quickly and softly as she can. Mrs. Westvessel asks her to repeat it, in a nice big voice, so she gives her beloved poem the best read that she can. After all, her father is a professional poet who has published books and everything. She gets a failing grade, though—because the assignment was to write a rhyming poem.

Woefully, she makes her way home to tell her parents. As parents go, they are pretty cool. In addition to her poet father, her mom’s a painter and they all live in an artist’s loft with lots of charm (but no elevator). At dinner, she carefully tries to broach the touchy subject. When she gives her poem to her father to read, he finds that the “F” at the top just needs a few more letters after it. Namely, an “a-b-u-l-o-u-s.” Anastasia’s relief is brief, because the next bit of news she gets rocks her world even more than a failing grade. Her parents are going to have a baby.

Anastasia’s 10th year of life continues on its eventful course as she contemplates converting to Catholicism, gets to know her Grandmother, falls in love, and prepares for the inevitable baby nuisance.

Working from Lois Lowry’s popular Anastasia Krupnik book series, playwright Meryl Friedman captures the spirit of the novels and the charming qualities of the protagonist. The portrait of this young girl’s life, with her semi-bohemian parents, is honest and unafraid of a realistic portrayal of life from an intelligent 10-year-old’s perspective. Children and adults alike can relate to Anastasia’s struggle to come to terms with her impending brother and the mix of emotions she has as she figures out where she came from, who she is, and what her place is in the family. “I love the character of Anastasia because there's a little bit of the outsider in all of us,” explains director Casey Stangl. “I admire her courage and love watching her find her own voice.”

Stangl has assembled a cast of SCR veterans—Emily Eiden, Jennifer Parsons, and Elia Saldana—along with a couple of new faces to SCR stages—Ann Noble and Geoffrey Wade.

“The cast is amazing,” says Stangl, “fun, talented people who love the material and the characters they play.” The design team includes Keith Mitchell, sets; Jessica Olson, costumes; Jeremy Pivnick, lights; and Jeff Polunas, sound.

Meet the Cast of Anastasia Krupnik

The cast in Meryl Friedman’s adaptation of Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik is as funny and sassy as the play’s title character; maybe it’s because they’re a bit offbeat as well.

Emily Eiden
Ann Noble
Geoffrey Wade
Jennifer Parsons
Elia Saldana

Emily Eiden is Anastasia. She’s been in several SCR Theatre for Young Audiences shows, including Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! and A Year with Frog and Toad. She also was featured in Taking Steps. She loves being a storyteller and found inspiration from her great-great grandmother who was a children’s author. Eiden says her job is to bring to life characters from book and script pages.

Ann Noble makes her SCR debut as Katherine Krupnik. Most recently, she played Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth. Her home theatre company is The Antaeus Company. When she’s not acting, she’s writes scripts for plays, TV and movies; a lot of what she’s done has been webcast. She turned to acting in high school with the encouragement of great teachers.

Geoffrey Wade thinks it’s great to be a poet in Anastasia Krupnik. You’ll see him as Myron Krupnik and Robert. He’s busy on the television front, in “Scrubs,” “Numb3rs,” “Law & Order” and “NCIS.” He says, “while TV is cool, acting in the theatre is more fun because we get to hear you laugh.”

Jennifer Parsons is well-known to SCR audiences, most recently she was Mrs. Cratchit in the seasonal classic, A Christmas Carol. Among other productions, she’s been in: The Borrowers, James and Giant Peach and Sideways Stories from Wayside School. She’s looking forward to taking on the roles of Anastasia’s grandmother and Mrs. Westvessel. She knows that “all older people were younger people once.”

Elia Saldana began her acting career as a dancing bear and Christmas carol singer. She has, of course, moved on! She’s been in SCR’s Jane of the Jungle, and also was in a touring production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story and danced in Westside Story. She is a voice artist for cartoons, too.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lost in Translation

Michelle Krusiec and Alex Moggridge in Chinglish.
By Kelly L. Miller

Chinglish, David Henry Hwang’s uproarious new comedy about cultural miscommunication begins with a PowerPoint presentation. In it, American businessman Daniel Cavanaugh tries to explain the challenges of doing business in China.

To illustrate the language barrier, he shows photos of terribly mangled Chinese-to-English translations—or “Chinglish,” as it’s commonly called:

“To Take Notice of Safe: The Slippery Are Very Crafty.”
PROPER TRANSLATION: Slippery Slopes Ahead

“Financial Affairs Is Everywhere Long.”
PROPER TRANSLATION: Chief Financial Officer

“F*#k the Certain Price of Goods.”
PROPER TRANSLATION: Dry Goods Pricing Department

Cavanaugh explains: “The first rule of doing business in China is also the last. Assuming you are an American. Because, if you are American, it is also safe to assume that you do not speak a single f*$#ing foreign language.  If you take away nothing else from our talk today, remember this. Write it down.

When doing business in China, always bring your own translator.”

And with that, the play flashes back three years prior to Daniel’s first trip to China—and the provincial city of Guiyang—where he has just hired British “business consultant” Peter Timms to translate and help him land a lucrative deal making English signs for a new cultural center. Peter arranges a meeting with Guiyang’s Cultural Minister Cai Guoliang, confident that Cai owes him a favor. But first, Peter says, Daniel will have to take ample time to build “Guanxi,” or quality relationships, since “business in China is built on relationships.”

Minister Cai's offce.  Set design by David Korins.
Their first meeting with Minister Cai begins with promise, but quickly disintegrates into a series of mistranslations and cultural miscommunications, and Daniel soon learns from Cai’s Vice Minister Xi Yan—an attractive female lieutenant—that nothing in Chinese business or personal relationships is ever quite what it seems.

It turns out that Peter is an English teacher, masquerading as a business consultant—and that political corruption may render the business deal impossible. But an unexpected romantic alliance inspires Daniel to keep trying and eventually reveal the truth of his own business past.

David Henry Hwang estimates that at least a quarter of Chinglish is actually spoken in Mandarin; in fact, every character in the play besides Daniel Cavanaugh speaks Chinese. A self-described “first-generation Chinese-American baby boomer born and raised in Los Angeles,” Hwang was interested in writing a bilingual play—even though he’s not actually bilingual. He studied Mandarin for a few years in college, but worked with Hong Kong-based playwright and translator Candace Mui Ngam Chong.

Hwang says he was inspired to write Chinglish by a trip he took to Shanghai: “On one visit, I was taken to a brand new cultural center [there], which was gorgeous except for the ridiculously translated signs. For instance, the handicapped restrooms said, ‘Deformed Man’s Toilet.’ I began to think of using these signs as a jumping-off point to write a play about doing business in China today, one which would tackle the issue of language. In most of our plays and movies, when an American character goes to, say, Brazil, everyone speaks English – with a Brazilian accent. I imagined my Chinese characters having the dignity of their own language, with an American audience reading the translations through projected supertitles.”

David Henry Hwang and Leigh Silverman in rehearsal at
Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
Critical acclaim for Chinglish has been widespread from Chicago to New York to Berkeley. SCR’s co-production with Berkeley Rep is helmed by Hwang’s longtime collaborator, director Leigh Silverman, who has been with the play since Broadway.

Chinglish first opened at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 2010, winning a Jeff Award for Best New Play, before moving to Broadway in 2011. Time Magazine called Chinglish “one of the three best plays of the year!” The Chicago Sun-Times called it “one of the funniest plays in memory” with “sex, heartache, even a bit of song and dance,” saying “Chinglish manages the neat trick of being about issues, yet populated with real humans while being consistently funny.”

David Henry Hwang says that Chinglish “explores the many ways human beings misunderstand one another.” It is more than a comedy of errors about the superficial barriers of Chinese language and mistranslation. It is also a nuanced look at the Chinese-American cultural divide—and the universality of human business, life and love which transcends it.

Hwang's Plays and Awards


  • 2011 Jeff Award, Outstanding New Play (Goodman production)
  • #3, Top Ten Plays of 2011, Time magazine
Yellow Face
  • 2008 Obie Award
  • 2008 Pulitzer Prize Finalist
Golden Child
  • 1997 World Premiere at SCR
  • 1997 Obie Award
  • 1998 Tony nomination
M. Butterfly
  • 1997 Tony Award for Best Play
  • 1998 Pulitzer Prize finalist
The Dance and the Railroad
  • 1982 Drama Desk Award nomination
Family Devotions
  • 1982 Drama Desk Award nomination
FOB (Fresh off the Boat)
  • 1981 Obie Award
The Return of David Henry Hwang

With Chinglish, South Coast Repertory welcomes home an old friend, playwright David Henry Hwang. Associate Artistic Director John Glore says “SCR’s relationship with David Henry Hwang dates back to a commission we awarded him about 20 years ago, and we co-produced the world premiere of one of his most successful plays, Golden Child (with the Public Theater in 1996). So it’s great to have David’s work back on our stage, especially when the work is as smart, funny and timely as Chinglish.”

Hwang’s Golden Child, with Jodi Long, Stan Egi,
Tsai Chin and Liana Pai in 1997.
Hwang is one of the most lauded modern American playwrights working today. In a career that spans over three decades, he’s garnered the Tony Award for Best Play for M. Butterfly and three Obie Awards for his plays FOB, Golden Child and Yellow Face.  His Broadway musicals include the books for Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida (co-author), Flower Drum Song, and Disney’s Tarzan.  He is America’s most-produced living opera librettist, having written four works with composer Philip Glass, as well as Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar (two 2007 Grammys), Unsuk Chin’s Alice In Wonderland, and Bright Sheng’s The Silver River.  Hwang also penned the feature films M. Butterfly, Golden Gate and Possession (co-writer), and co-wrote the song “Solo” with composer/performer Prince

Hwang recently was awarded the $200,000 Steinberg Award for playwriting, the most generous prize in theatre. He is currently the Residency One Playwright at New York’s Signature Theatre, which is producing a season of his plays in 2012-13, including revivals of Golden Child and The Dance and the Railroad—and the premiere of his newest work, Kung Fu, about martial arts legend Bruce Lee.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"The Motherf**ker with the Hat" in Other Words: Reviewers

Larry Bates, Tony Sancho and Christian Barillas in The Motherf**ker with the Hat.
Playgoers filled the house in the Julianne Argyros Stage for opening weekend of The Motherf**ker with the Hat. They were joined by area theatre reviewers, who came away with high praise for SCR’s production. Here’s a sampling of what they’ve said about the show:
Elisa Bocanegra and Tony Sancho
  •  The Orange County Register’s Paul Hodgins calls it “…edgy…raucous…a bumpy, obscene and exhilarating ride...undeniably entertaining.”
  • James Scarborough, in the Huffington Post says the play is “funny and tender…the dialogue is pyrotechnic.”
  • Eric Marchese, in Backstage, calls The Motherf**ker with the Hat  “ruthlessly funny” and adds it “pulls no punches.”
  • Charles McNulty, in the Los Angeles Times, says The Motherf**ker with the Hat is “exhilarating.”
  • Don Shirley, writing for LA Stage Times, says the show is “unusually original.” 
  •  Stage Scene LA: "Easily rivals Broadway's best"
  •  Garden Grove Journal: "Hilarious and touching"
  •  Daily Pilot: "Gripping ... with moments of outrageous hilarity"
  • Hollywood Reporter: "This crack production should please a wide spectrum of theatergoers"
  •  Theatre Times:"Honest and humorous"
Want to experience the play for yourself? Get your tickets today.

Reality Onstage: Laughter, Tears—and Cheers—Follow First Night of "The Motherf**ker with the Hat"

“What struck me about this show was how ‘real’ it was,” Tim Weiss (Honorary Producer with his wife Jean) commented after First Night of The Motherfu**er with the Hat” on January 11th. “For me, this is what drama is all about. Taking a peek under the covers and seeing what makes real people in real situations either move on or not.

“I don’t normally tear up,” Weiss added, “so I was surprised when I did during the final scene.”

The audience clearly agreed. While reacting to the humor which was so much a part of the story, many playgoers struggled to hold back tears at the end—and then they all joined in the tremendous standing ovation.

The mood was lighter at the Cast Party that followed, co-sponsored by Pinot Provence. Even the hats—distributed to First Nighters as they entered the restaurant—were cheerily flourescent. But as they donned fedoras, sipped “beermosas”—beer, orange juice and champagne served in Mason jars—munched popcorn served from a cart, along with mini hot dogs and other New York-y treats, playgoers were serious about the show. And when the director, actors and designers arrived, they were greeted with spontaneous kudos.

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cast Brings Internationalism to "Chinglish"

THE CAST:  From left to right, Ramond Ma, Vivian Chiu, Alex Moggridge, Michelle Krusiec, Austin Ku, Celeste Den and Brian Nishii.
While cast of Chinglish has numerous credits in theatre, film and television, the actors also have fascinating and diverse backgrounds. Most of the actors are U.S.-born, some hail from different countries.

Originally from Tokyo, Japan, Brian Nishii—who understudied all the male Asian roles in the Broadway production of Chinglish—plays the role of Peter in the SCR’s production.  Taiwan native Vivian Chiu—who understudied all the female roles on Broadway—plays the role of Zhao in the SCR production.

Michelle Krusiec is originally from Taiwan, an upbringing she explores in her critically acclaimed solo show Made in Taiwan. Most people will recognize her from the international hit film Saving Face, which earned her a Best Actress nomination for the Golden Horse Award, the Chinese equivalent of the American Oscar Awards.

Austin Ku has his own knack for international travel: he’s a regular performer with the USO show troupe called the Liberty Bells.

Raymond Ma will be performing in a national tour of The Joy Luck Club. Celeste Den starred in that show when it ran in Los Angeles at East West Players, the nation’s preeminent Asian American theatre.

And finally there’s Alex Moggridge, who plays the sign-making Ohio businessman, Daniel. Moggridge actually taught English in Taiwan at one point in his career.

Catch this great cast at SCR in the Broadway smash hit Chinglish. Following the show’s run here in Costa Mesa, the production heads overseas for performances at the Hong Kong Arts Festival.

Some SCR performances of Chinglish are already sold out, so get your tickets in advance. The show runs Jan. 25-Feb. 24 on the Segerstrom Stage.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Do You Speak “Chinglish”?

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Daniel Cavanaugh is up front when it comes to what he didn’t know about China before going there. Like the language. Or the culture.

Cavenaugh is an Ohio-based businessman who wants to expand his family’s sign-making company by locking up a deal with China. He’s a character in David Henry Hwang’s play Chinglish. In the play, Cavanaugh says all he knew about China was “the difference between Moo Shu Pork and General Tso’s Chicken.”

For English-speaking visitors, foreign countries try to help ease travel and business by translating signage. The word choices on these signs range from wrong to bizarre to LOL-funny. In China, these mistranslations are known as “Chinglish,” and they’re at the heart of Hwang’s Chinglish, which runs at South Coast Repertory Jan. 25-Feb. 24.

Online—and in the play—you’ll find many Chinglish examples. Here are some of our favorites:

  • “Please forgive to be incontinent for interior decoration.”
    • Please forgive the inconvenience during our remodeling.
  • “Baby on Road”
    • Baby on Board
  • “Do Not Disturb: Tiny Grass is Sleeping”
    • Do Not Walk on Grass
  • “Do Drunken Driving”
    • Don’t Drink and Drive
  • “Smart noshery makes you slobber”
    • [We don’t know what this is; from a business marquee!]

Look for more Chinglish signs online.
Share some of your favorites on our Facebook page.