Afung Moy is majestic, idealistic, and beautiful. In 1834, she has set foot on American soil from China at just 14 years of age to share her background, culture, and experiences. However, the details behind her arrival as well as her time and purpose in the United States is where the real story lies.
Directed impressively by Sarah Shin and in partnership with the Chuang Stage, Central Square Theater reveals a little known yet impactful figure in Lloyd Suh’s The Chinese Lady live and in person at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts through December 11. This semi-interactive production is 90 minutes with no intermission. Click here for more information and for tickets.
The Chinese Lady is gripping from the start and much of that is due to its two powerful leads that at first share amiable banter, humor, and building tension. With bright and expressive eyes, Sophorl Ngin depicts Afung Moy with compelling curiosity as she gradually discovers the life that has been set out in front of her. Ngin’s sweet and understated ingenuity beams adorned in exquisitely-detailed gold embroidered lavender and lilac attire crowned with a colorful guan by costume designer Sandra Zhihan Jia.
Scenic designer Qinan Zhang has a meticulous eye for detail and each piece of furniture and prop provides a significant purpose. Nothing in this vast room is just for show. Translucent curtains blanket the room and add a mysterious quality to the space. Steel structures hang above a Chinese floral blossoms arrangement and the matching end tables and chair quickly become essential to this historical account.
From China’s history of inventing tea to the gruesome details of foot binding, Ngin delivers her lines pragmatically and with a cheery glow, treating her time onstage at first an adventure with delusions of grandeur. With a wide eyed countenance, Ngin brilliantly depicts Afung from her imaginative humor and naivete to the subtle evolution in her ripened demeanor, weary walk, and her conflicted style of speaking as years gradually progress. The Chinese Lady is confronted with the ugly side of humanity and lays it bare as her time slowly fades into a land she has little choice but to adapt to it.
Ngin as Afung and Jae Woo as her older translator and guide Atung illustrate their absorbing camaraderie as they embody their complex characters, particularly exemplified in a chilling scene with the President. This intense and carefully executed scene is riveting and difficult to witness, but punctuates the sheer marvel of these two together onstage. Jae Woo portrays Atung as mysterious, subdued, polite, and unassuming as he keeps himself as minimal as the furniture. He is kind, protective, and squarely knows his place, but hints at a painfully buried intensity. Woo handles this complicated and austere character with tight lipped finesse in spite of or more hauntingly, because of all he has been through.
The Chinese Lady is best experienced without revealing the true nature of the story. Afung’s endearing personality provides a temporary distraction of what is actually happening onstage. Director Sarah Shin and author Lloyd Suh’s clever unfolding of historical and contemporary events and the actors’ subtle navigation in their performances on issues that are anything but subtle are weaved into a striking and message driven historical work that peels away that subtlety piece by piece and by the final act, leaves everything astonishingly and unsettling bare.
Central Square Theater reveals a little known yet impactful historical figure in Lloyd Suh’s The Chinese Lady live and in person at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts through December 11. This semi-interactive performance is 90 minutes with no intermission. Click here for more information and tickets.