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Playwright David Henry Hwang gives language lessons in 'Chinglish'

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Hwang's comedy is a playful look at language and the power it holds, and it's based on real encounters he had while visiting China.

David Henry Hwang is arguably the most prominent Asian-American playwright in the country. His Tony Award-winning play, “M. Butterfly,” was the first Asian-American play produced on Broadway, where it ran for nearly 800 performances and toured internationally. Since then, Hwang has worked consistently on stages big and small. His 2011 play, “Chinglish,” is currently at East West Players in downtown L.A.’s Little Tokyo. 

The comedy is a playful look at language and the power it holds. And it’s a personal production for Hwang, not only because of his Chinese heritage, but also because the theater at East-West Players bears his name.

Hwang is a busy man these days. He’s adapting “Chinglish” into a feature film to be helmed by “Fast and the Furious” director Justin Lin; he’s writing for the Showtime series, “The Affair”; and he’s scripting a film for Dreamworks Animation.

When Hwang stopped by KPCC recently, The Frame’s Oscar Garza spoke with him about the inspiration for “Chinglish” and his experience as a first generation American.

Interview Highlights 

What was the inspiration for “Chinglish"? 

That’s actually a scene in the play.
And from that first visit did you start to think about writing the play?
“Chinglish” premiered in Chicago in 2011 and went on to Broadway. But it had its L.A. premiere while Chinese President Jinping was making his first visit to the U.S. He took office after you wrote the play. Have you noticed any change in the way that China conducts itself that has made you want to revisit your script?
You eventually were allowed to produce “Chinglish” in Hong Kong. Was it received well?
Do you enjoy being in China?
For any of us whose families have roots in another country, and we’re now fully assimilated, when you go back there is sometimes tension. What has been your experience when you go to China?
How did your parents talk with you about China when you were young and how do you talk with your children about your roots?
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