By Marcina Zaccaria


Pan Asian Repertory Theatre presents Film Chinois, a new play filled with mystery and glamour.


Pan Asian Repertory Theatre evokes Film Noir in its most recent production. Film Chinois begins in Beijing in 1947. Chinadoll, a Maoist Femme Fatale played by Rosanne Ma (The Joy Luck Club) meets Randolph, an American from Yale with government business. In the first scene, Chinadoll speaks out to the audience, setting the tone for the play. Soon, a chanteuse named Simone (Katie Lee Hill) meets a Belgian diplomat, played by Jean Brassard. The characters become intertwined, navigating through difficult moments of confrontation. Trans-continental alliances are formed and broken in an instant, and politics, particularly Communism, aren’t off the table for subject matter.

This 38th season of Pan Asian Repertory Theatre begins a 3 year Pacific Bridge Initiative. Singapore born Playwright Damon Chua creates more than a tribute to film noir with Film Chinois. He is unafraid to handle the tougher topics, and his characters are full of beauty and mystery. There are many revelations throughout the story, propelling the play forward.

Director Kaipo Schwab has created daring moments onstage, leaving an unmistakable impact. The element of danger remains consistent throughout the show, with flashes of light and plenty of rainy weather. There are bold images and moments of direct address. The presentational moments are unexpected, but they keep the intrigue and the drama fresh. Roseanne Ma delivers a stand-out performance. She is tough and firm as Chinadoll, chewing carefully through the words provided by Chua. As she questions her beauty, she never loses her need to make the larger point.

Stark contrast is prevalent in the production design. Scenic Designer Sheryl Liu (Fishing for Wives, No-No Boy), works with a wide playing area, carefully framing the action, giving the space for actors to glide from tableau to tableau. Shadow and light follow them from moment to moment. Side light, top light, and back light provided by Marie Yokoyama (Three Trees, Baudelaire La Mort) prove to be quite evocative. Smooth sound design by Ian Wherle (No-No Boy, Fishing for Wives) makes the show feel complete. Costume Designer Carol A. Pelletier (DOJOJI, KWATZ! the Tibetan Project) has fun with the genre, including large trench coats and fabulous silk dresses.

The production, as a whole, lacks the humor sometimes found in Film Noir, but it’s still a great watch. In the last moment of the play, film and theater combine in a smart, inventive way. Chinadoll sits in front of a movie screen showing previously filmed images. Only a few feet from the screen, she endures, able to temper her longing for the past. She is an intense woman, leading a great journey, and one worth seeing.


Film Chinois runs thru February 8 at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W 42nd Street between 9th and Dyer.