KITCHEN DIPLOMACY: Jinqiang (Nick Louie, left) tries to understand the needs of Desdemona (Monica Ho) and her father (Lawrence-Michael C. Arias) in 'Ching Chong Chinaman.' Photograph by Robyn Winslow
Lauren Yee’s provocatively titled Ching Chong Chinaman is making its San Jose debut at City Lights Theater with a production directed by Jeffrey Bracco. This is a play about Chinese-American identity and identity in general—“Who am I and who do I want to be?“—as well as an exuberant skewering of that great American cliche, the “melting pot.”
Upton Wong (Anthony Chan) knows exactly who he wants to be: World of Warcraft champion, with all the attendant fame, glory and women. His sister, Desdemona (Monica Ho), wants to go to Princeton. Their mother, Grace (Chiho Saito), dreams of something beyond her dull existence as a homemaker, while their father (Lawrence-Michael C. Arias) just wants to win the family golf tournament.
Though Desdemona longs for a colorful family heritage that will ease her entry into an Ivy League college, the Wongs are thoroughly “melted” into the American cauldron. They cannot speak Chinese or use chopsticks, and they don’t dwell on their cultural background. However, this assimilated “normalcy” is thrown off-kilter from the outset by the presence of Jinqiang (Nick Louie), an indentured servant brought from China to do Upton’s homework for him. In a somewhat madcap series of events, including a Mexican quincea–era, “Gangnam Style” and tap dancing, the Wongs find their identities turned upside down.