The Chinese Lady – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven is proud to be offering live theatre once again, after such a long hiatus, with the intriguing true tale of a fourteen year old girl from the Guangzhou Province in China who comes to America in 1834. Afong Moy, the youngest of seven children, has no say in this momentous decision and soon finds herself a sideshow attraction. What was to be a two year commitment ultimately lasts for decades, more than five.

Until October 31, you are invited into her intimate world as penned by Lloyd Suh and lyrically directed by Ralph B. Pena as you make the acquaintance of a luminous Shannon Tyo as Afong Moy.

Living in a virtual box, she soon finds herself satisfying the curiosities of white visitors who have never seen a woman from China before. Afong May is thought to be the first person of Chinese origin to come here. She shows them how she dresses, what she eats, and, most especially, how she is able to walk on feet that have been crippled and bound with silk cord.

Afong Moy is regarded as a curiosity, a figure to be studied, an object to be examined. The decades she is put on display as a celebrity take a toll on her image of herself and her exotic ways. In the beginning, she is delighted to share her uniqueness, her chopsticks instead of a fork, her distinctive and colorful clothing, all the vestiges of a life that is rich and culturally different.

At her side over the years is her guardian and translator Atung played by Jon Norman Schneider, who cares for her and protects her, especially when she goes on a many city tour, even meeting President Andrew Jackson. She is never asked if this is what she wants with her new life, if she has ambitions that are never realized, whether she wishes to go home to see her family, that she is being exploited and never even paid. This is no grand mission of worldly understanding, This is not a joyful honor of which Afong should feel pride. The playwright skillfully inserts Chinese history into the story as more Chinese come to this country and are abused and mistreated.

For tickets ($59), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-693-1486 or online at longwharf.org. Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Patrons must show fully vaccinated card and wear a mask.

Follow the fascinating journey of a young Chinese girl as she brings her culture and homeland to our shores.

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