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The Chinese Lady plays to sold-out audiences in New York

By Shirley Ng & Louis Chan, AsAmNews

The Chinese Lady at the Public Theater closes out its two-month run in New York on April 10. It’s the story of the first known Chinese American woman to set foot on American soil, Afong Moy, at just the age of 14. Moy took advantage of America’s curiosity about China and traveled the country displaying the virtues of Chinese clothing, language, and culture. She became known as The Chinese Lady.

Award-winning playwright Lloyd Suh originally brought the play to life in 2018. He told AsAmNews he’s been “haunted” by Moy ever since he read about her. He came across Moy while doing research on the origins of Asian American stereotypes for another play.

The Korean American realizes The Chinese Lady has taken on a whole new meaning in the context of the anti-Asian hysteria that’s permeated the country since the start of the pandemic. He sees that as part of the evolution of any play.

Lloyd Suh. From Ma-Yi Theater Company

“Anti-Asian attacks are of course not new, and the play has always been mindful of where and how the history of anti-Asian sentiment in the United States was allowed to develop and grow,” he said. “It’s a piece that often speaks directly to the audience and invites them to consider their present reality, we’ve had some rich conversations in rehearsal rooms about how to do that in a way that feels immediate,” Suh told AsAmNews.

The Chinese Lady stars Shannon Tyo as Moy. She has several off-Broadway credits and numerous regional theater performances. She’s also appeared on TV’s 30 Rock, The Last OG, and Rediscovering Christmas.

Daniel Issac plays Atung, her Chinese interpreter. He’s a veteran of off-Broadway and regional theater productions. He’s also appeared in six seasons as Ben Kim in The Billions on Showtime.

The Chinese Lady is a joint production of The Barrington Stage Company and Ma-Yi Theater Company Production under the direction of director Ralph Pena.

All remaining shows are sold out.

By Joan Marcus. he Public Theater, The Barrington Stage Company and Ma-Yi Theater Company

“Many Americans don’t know of her (Tong’s) story,” Pena told AsAmNews. “It’s a clarifying point in American history that underlines the roles Asian Americans, particularly the first Chinese immigrants played in building the country we know today. We’ve been here a long time, and we have every right to be here.”

While set in the past, Suh sees his play as being more futuristic. What do we do to the legacy of the early immigrants, he wonders. How shall we honor them and how can we fulfill their aspirations?

His hope is that The Chinese Lady inspires audiences to reflect both outwards and inwards.

“This country is in the midst of reckoning on what it means to be an American, and how one’s body connects to that; this reckoning includes an acknowledgment of what it means to live in a country with the kind of history it has,” said Suh. “I’m wrestling with that myself, and I appreciate an audience that’s willing to wrestle with it with me.”

Pena, a Filipino American, describes the play as “timeless” and one that challenges the penchant of westerners to put things in glass cages, “especially those that are foreign and unusual.” With that in mind, the play is actually set inside a shipping container.

It’s my story. I’m asked to perform my ethnicity every day. When I enter most rooms, I am the “other.” In that respect, I experience Afong Moy every day. I think that’s true for all immigrants,” said Pena.

(Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the last name of Afong Moy. We regret the error.)

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