The play I chose to read for my independent study on diversity in theater between 1975 and 2000 was the short play, Trying to Find Chinatown (1996) by David Henry Hwang. Surprisingly, I have never read anything by David Henry Hwang in its entirety. I’ve read and seen monologues from his plays, but I’ve never taken the time to seek them out myself. I am really happy that I finally chose to read this play and take out a book from the library with a collection of his works. After reading this play, I realize what a shame it is that I haven’t read his works sooner and how amazing, beautiful, powerful his works are.
This play was obviously written for the diverse population of Asian Americans, as all of Hwang’s work centers on Asian American issues and stories. While the main target audience is probably mainly Asian Americans, I will say that it is equally important that white people and I guess people of other races see it too. Specifically, white people though. Especially since this play is about a conversation between a white man and an Asian man from two very different backgrounds and what Asian history means to both of them.
From my understanding and takeaway of the play, the message or theme of the play is identity. It is about two strangers’ different perspectives on a modern Chinese American identity. Both of the characters make very interesting comments on what is means to be Chinese American and how one would reflect their racial identity. Through the clashing opinions of the two characters in the play you could say that Hwang is trying to talk about or bring up how racial identity is not always skin deep or just purely physical/biological. That is definitely something that an audience member could argue with Hwang about, but I think the point he was trying to make with the play was quite interesting and convincing. When I was reading the play, I sided a lot with the Asian American character, Ronnie; I couldn’t understand how the obviously super white Benjamin could take so much false pride in his “Chinese heritage” when he was just a white guy adopted by Asian parents. After all he appeared to be the stereotypical weird white guy who has a deep cultural understanding and interest in Asian studies. Then after getting to the end of the play and hearing the last monologue by Benjamin, I understood Hwang’s message. I understood where Benjamin was coming from, and how his own identity was filled by the past of his father and grandfather even if they weren’t biologically related. This hit home for me because I am adopted and I can completely understand the relationship between adopted children and their parents; especially knowing that it doesn’t matter if they are your biological parents or not because family love and connections are just as meaningful.
Overall, I loved the play. It was short, simple, and poignant. There was such an elegant simplicity in the length of the show in addition to having two starkly contrasting characters. Not a single word was wasted, as Hwang is a master with his prose. He also made the play very funny, his use of comedy was not in poor taste and it added to the fluid movement of the play overall. Again, reading one of his works for the first time really makes me ashamed for being so ignorant and stubborn about not reading his works earlier in my life. It is never too late to start though, so I’m very pleased that I have checked out a collection of his works. I loved his perspective on Asian American identity and the questions and comments he had/has about it. He was not only able to speak for the modern Asian American assimilated voice, but he put himself in the shoes of a very surprising and unexpected contrasting character with deep roots.