`Golden Child’

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This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

May 6, 1998. All rights reserved.

Simon Saltzman

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`Golden Child’

The ancient custom of binding of an infant girl’s feet,

the newly-fashionable practice of smoking of opium, and the eternal

conflicts of the concubine — exotic experiences all — are

recalled in David Henry Hwang’s sweetly detailed memory play,


Child." As related by the 80-year-old ghostly spirit of Ahn, the

play’s heroine and title character, and seen through her reflective

eyes as a spunky precocious child in 1918 China, we see how a wealthy

Chinese family makes the uneasy transition from Eastern tradition

to Western culture.

This is not a new play by the author of "M. Butterfly," but

presented as a major rewrite of the work that first appeared


at the Public Theater in 1996. Unfamiliar with the first version,

I can only attest to the general, if somewhat passive, pleasure I

had watching this fictionalized biographical tale. However


resplendent are settings by Tony Straiges, costumes by Martin


and lighting by David J. Lander, it is the dramatic depiction of a

centuries-old heritage forced into an agonizing painful metamorphosis

that really opens our eyes. Under the direction of James Lapine, the

actors seem beautifully tempered to the tone of Hwang’s script, most

notable for its subtle wit and poignantly addressed humor. This is

what gives "Golden Child" its shine.

The precocious, persuasive nature of the 10-year-old Ahn (beautifully

acted by Julyana Soelistyo, who makes the remarkable changes from

old to young in a flash), is bracing. You will surely feel her pain

as she convinces her reluctant, but increasingly Westernized father,

recently returned to his household from an extended business trip

to the Philippines, and her tradition-keeping mother to have her tiny

bound feet unbound. Told that the unbinding of her feet and the slow

straightening of the bones will cause more pain even than the binding,

Ahn nevertheless faces the painful gift of freedom.

The play’s progress is slow and characterized by redundant dramatic

confrontations that sound less like dialogue than like naive lectures

on the differences between Eastern and Western philosophies. But there

are some also lovely scenes between Eng (Randall Duk Kim), the father,

and his three wives. There are the predictable contrasts of the First

Wife (Tsai Chin), who is virtually retired from duties and enjoys

her privacy and her opium pipe; the Second Wife (Kim Miyori), who

is in command and the most progressive; and the Third Wife (Ming-Na

Wen), who is pregnant, and torn between the old and the new.


baiting each other, the wives are a constant source of amusement.

The clash between East and West is most curiously depicted in the

character of an English missionary (John Horton), who, though polite

in the home of his host, Eng, is profoundly ineffectual as a


Surprisingly ineffectual, but not damaging the interior drama, is

the play’s prologue and epilogue set in the modern day, in which Ahn’s

son (also played by Kim), who is sleepless and troubled by his


to Christianity, is visited by his deceased mother in a dream. If

these scenes seem irrelevant, they are also as dreamily quaint as

the more enveloping dramaturgy they bookend. HHH

Golden Child, Longacre Theater, 220 West 48 Street,


$30 to $50.

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