Saturday, January 7, 2012

Outside People **

Is there room in New York for a second play about an American experiencing culture shock in today's China? The producers at Vineyard Theatre and Naked Angels apparently think so. We now have Zayd Dohrn's new play opening at the Vineyard. It does not really share much in common with "Chinglish." The comedy is much darker here. Each of the characters is in some sense an outsider -- Malcolm (Matt Dellapina) is an extremely neurotic schlemiel from Hoboken whose Chinese former roommate at Stanford, David (Nelson Lee), has invited him to visit and possibly live in Beijing. David's years in America have alienated him from his roots and left him with a taste for non-Chinese women. His current girlfriend Samanya (Sonequa Martin-Green) is the daughter of an African diplomat, raised in China, who will never be considered Chinese. On Malcolm's first night in town, David fixes Malcolm up with Xiao Mei (Li Jun Li), an attractive girl from the countryside trying to make it in the big city, with whom Malcolm promptly falls in love. Even the audience is at times an outsider, because there are a couple of scenes where the Chinese dialogue in not translated. The motivations for what transpires are complicated and not always made clear. The cast is excellent and the situation is sufficiently intriguing that my hopes were raised. Ultimately, I found it just good enough that I wish it had been better. Evan Cabnet's direction is smooth and the sets by Takeshi Kata are attractive and functional. Running time: 90 minutes without intermission.

Note: Dohrn, the son of Weather Underground members Bernadine Dohrn and William Ayers, should know about being an outsider -- he was raised in hiding for his first four years.

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