"Chinglish" is a play which finds humor and meaning in the mundane. Our protagonist is David Cavanaugh, an executive at a sign company looking to land a lucrative contract to produce signs and provide English translations for a museum in China. The play's opening scene provides hilarious examples of signs with translations gone awry, and the many moments of humor in the play revolve around not only the mind boggling complexity of Mandarin, where a incorrect tonal inflection can mean completely different words, but also the difficulty of interpreting and translating idioms. The latter humor was probably my favorite, communication between people is a messy business under the best of circumstances-- everyone wants to say the right thing--add in the oddities that native speakers never notice about their own language and the comedy is as surprising as it is funny.
Most of the rest of the plot concerns salesmanship and politics, and because these subjects lead to the play's twists, I will not elaborate on them.
I'd be remiss not to tell you that the play has quite a bit of Mandarin in it, rendered in subtitles projected on a screen above the stage. (The Press-Notes put the amount at about half the dialogue.) Once you get used to reading the subtitles it becomes easier to follow both action and words at the same time, (the synching felt perfect.) Still, I would say that it did feel much more difficult to do than watching a subtitled film. Especially when actors would stand in front of the screen, luckily this was rare. If you decide you're up to the challenge, I'd recommend opting for a few rows back, perhaps that will allow you to see better at those moments. I believe that "Chinglish" will reward your effort, but I also now understand why Milagro Theatre touts their "Gringo Discounts" for their bilingual productions. One last suggestion that might make things easier: theatres have copies of their scripts on hand to assist patrons who are hearing-impaired, it might behove you to take advantage of this service as well.