Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
May 6, 1998. All rights reserved.
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
$30 to $50.
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