Lauren Yee's satire "Ching Chong Chinaman" turns stereotypes and ideas about the American dream upside down.

Share story

What a family! Dad is a golf addict. Mom is mostly vacuous and inept. Hard-charging daughter, Desdemona, is neurotic about her application to Princeton, and son, Upton, is a champion electronic gamesman. It’s an all-American, upwardly mobile family, only this family is Chinese, and the whole play turns almost every cliché about Asian-American culture upside down, and, along the way, offers a satirical take on contemporary American society.

“Ching Chong Chinaman” is currently playing in New York to good reviews. It has also been seen in Minneapolis and Berkeley. This is its first Northwest production.

The one-liners come fast and furiously in this rollicking sendup as playwright Lauren Lee sets out to mock all major stereotypes. The whole effect is very funny, but below the humor are poignant issues related to identity.

The Wong family has abandoned their heritage. For instance, they don’t eat rice, can’t use chopsticks and have little Chinese culture in their lives. Yet they live in a society where you can’t escape skin color or eye shape.

The family’s life is thrown into disarray when Upton comes home with a Chinese indentured servant. He’s there to do Upton’s homework, and then Desdemona’s calculus. They don’t bother to find out if he speaks English, so order him about with sharp blasts on a whistle.

Director Desdemona Chiang’s staging and pacing are witty. There are entrances and exits that surprise and delight. The acting is uniformly good. The 1960s sitcom music is a brilliant touch, and the strains of “Tara’s Theme” say it all at the end of the first act.

The play, while asking us to take another look at the theory of the melting pot, makes a good case for accepting ourselves as we are rather than seeking another identity.

At times it is a little too glib, and there are too many plot twists and too much crammed in. But, overall this is a smart and funny work designed for all Americans.

Nancy Worssam: