By Marcina Zaccaria
How do we present ourselves? Who will be there to see us later? The Chinese Lady begins triumphantly a woman in silks, played by Shannon Tyo, seated center stage.
Afong Moy was the first female Chinese immigrant, asked to be part of a touring show. Exotic presentation in the side show era was nothing extraordinary, and what we sometimes forget is that the vast multi-cultural landscape that exists in the US now was not so average in the 19th century. Lloyd Suh’s script begins in 1834, and moves through the early 1900s, as seen by Afong.
The Producing Artistic Director of Ma-Yi Theater Company, Ralph B. Pena, directs this even, thoughtful production. He sets The Chinese Lady center stage in a turquoise box, surrounding by lovely flowers. She is elegant, presentational, and aware of the audience in front of her. Daniel K. Isaac is comical as the Manservant Atung. His stiff, seated posture, and ability to jump up at the beck and call of the Afong Moy, is less of a circus act, and somewhere between performance and lecture. His direction is edgy, and filled with a desire for audience members to see on every side.
As The Chinese Lady explains her life story, and the acting style varies from presentational to dramatic to naturalistic. Afong teaches the audience how to drink tea, and explains how she binds her feet. The acting loses a bit of its punch, when it is so everyday. There is something in the ornamental nature, that creates a screen through which to view someone who is not believed to be an object.
Determined, proud, and strong, she asserts that she must ride the Intercontinental Rail Road and travel to San Francisco. It is incredibly moving to see her progress in age, with the hopes that more great things can happen. From a woman who bound her feet to a determined, poised, clear storyteller, she traveled through time and space, not just to put herself on display, as much explain her world, to an audience who would listen.
Photos: Carol Rosegg
The Chinese Lady is running on Theater Row, located at 410 W. 42nd Street, in NYC thru November 18