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The Chinese Lady

From 19 critic and 22 member reviews
Members say: Relevant, Thought-provoking, Great acting, Clever, Quirky

About the show

Inspired by the true story of the first Chinese female to step foot in America, Ma-Yi's production is a tale of dark poetic whimsy and a unique portrait of the United States as seen through the eyes of a young Chinese woman. More…

Afong Moy reflects on life in 1834 and beyond, as she is brought to the United States from China and put on display for the American public as “The Chinese Lady.”


“One of the most original, thought-provoking and necessary works I have ever seen. It is a production that excels on every single level – text, direction, performance and design. I am still haunted by the brilliance of the insights, the emotionality unleashed in the spaces between words and the visual sumptuousness of its execution...Director Ralph B. Peña is a genius. You can see his steady hand in every crafted and highly detailed moment. Tyo as Afong Moy is simply astonishing." Full Review

Front Row Center

“While ‘The Chinese Lady’ deals with the tragic aftermath of Chinese Exclusion Act, it is also humorous, clever and entertaining, which is the victory of the play...I was so invested in Atong and Afong Moy’s journey that I was left wanting to hear more about their lives...Both Tyo and Isaac are amazing...They steal your heart with their innocence and portrayal of two extraordinary human beings...The writing is engaging. Peña’s direction is superb." Full Review


“Suh’s stylized play is mesmerizing, and unsettlingly timely. In a quiet succession of poetic, meta-theatrical scenes, we see Afong evolve from a naive 14-year-old girl to an elderly 90 year-old woman...Her mounting anxiety and self-realization of her situation as well as her love/hate relationship with her translator Atung, surprisingly make for rich, compelling theater. ‘The Chinese Lady’ is an important new play that sheds light on a painful slice of American history." Full Review

New York Theatre Review

“Thrilling, hilarious, and vibrant...Suh Moy's story provides the perfect springboard to explore the history of the Chinese in America and the ways in which we have not come nearly as far as we think...Suh’s play is wildly funny as he gleefully lampoons the fetishization that Moy is subjected to...A sumptuous, meticulously crafted production that sings with beauty and pierces with incisive wit...Tyo gives master-class performance as Moy.” Full Review

New York Theater

"An often amusing but pointed and instructive play that is as deceptively simple as calligraphy. Its bold strokes are masterfully etched by actors Shannon Tyo as Afong and Daniel K. Isaac as Atung, her interpreter...Under the direction of Ralph B. Peña, 'The Chinese Lady' manages to achieve something of a balance, delivering the harsh facts in a production that maintains its lyricism, thanks largely to the terrific design team." Full Review

The New York Times

"This quiet play steadily deepens in complexity as we trail the idealistic Afong and the more knowing Atung through the decades...Ms. Tyo and Mr. Isaac have gorgeous chemistry, and with their rapport they cast a spell that Fabian Obispo’s music and Oliver Wason’s lighting unobtrusively fortify...It is both practical and kind that Mr. Suh has softened his script with humor...By the end of Mr. Suh’s extraordinary play, we look at Afong and see whole centuries of American history." Full Review


"This engaging unusual in construction and subject matter...Ralph B. Pena's direction, reminiscent of a stylized Chinese opera, creates a subtle tension through dramatic minimalistic movements...It intensifies the inner emotions of the actors and adds texture and nuanced meaning to their dialogue and actions...Suh and his cast and production colleagues have reconstructed a riveting and poetic 90-minute world premiere of historic interest and pointed political observations." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Suh’s version of Afong Moy is wonderful...Tyo is a performer of pure charisma, and she and Isaac enjoy a hilarious, spiky byplay...Suh keeps slipping a knife in. Afong Moy holds one belief absolutely sacred: that her audiences are making an empathic leap when they watch her...Provocatively, Suh has built a critique of 'looking' itself into the play’s bones. All those people watched her for all those decades, and now here we are, watching some more. What an uneasy thought." Full Review

History News Network

“The history in the play is considerable and very detailed, sometimes chilling. It is a disturbing history and one that Americans ignored...The two actors in the play are really impressive. Tyo is superb...You have to admire the play’s director, Ralph B. Pena. It is hard to keep a two-character play interesting but he does, constantly rushing from year to year and scene to scene and keeping Atung and ‘the Chinese Lady’ interactive through most of the play.” Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

“Pena, directs this even, thoughtful production...As ‘The Chinese Lady’ explains her life story, and the acting style varies from presentational to dramatic to naturalistic...The acting loses a bit of its punch, when it is so every day...It is incredibly moving to see her progress in age...From a woman who bound her feet to a determined, poised, clear storyteller, she traveled through time and space, not just to put herself on display, as much explain her world.” Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

“A fascinating historical look at Asians in America through the eyes of the first Chinese woman to come here...We see her from age 14 to 82...She becomes less Afong Moy and more a voice for the Chinese in America...While the historical context is interesting, the intersection with Moy does not deliver as much of an emotional payoff...While the play can feel in moments didactic, it churns up deeply felt issues of immigration and cultural identity which go far beyond one 'Chinese Lady.'" Full Review


“Towards the end, the play casts its audience through Chinese American immigration history via Afong...before jumping to the present. This is an important lineage, but I felt this contemporary jump...a bit didactic. Still, Suh’s play seeks to dive into and through our constant conversations about identity and cross-cultural understanding and belonging and otherness, all the while weaving in our collective past. And that makes it worthwhile.” Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"Tyo invests Afong with a natural authority that keeps one interested in her fate...But there's little that she can do to enliven the longueurs of the script...For all the considerable fascination of its central character, ‘The Chinese Lady’ ultimately disappoints: Having established Afong's daily routine, it basically repeats itself, substituting commentary -- which is, admittedly, frequently pointed and witty -- for meaningful conflict.” Full Review

Times Union

for a previous production "This play is unlike any you've seen...An exceptionally engaging world premiere...Suh explores Moy's story in an unusual, intellectually bracing way that explodes theater conventions...We are helped to understand people and occurrences that are distant from us, whether that distance is a result of time or culture or both...Poetic in its language, illuminating in its history, directed with a clear eye and strong conception." Full Review

Berkshire Edge

for a previous production "Thanks to two of the most beautiful actors, the results are captivating...Director Ralph G. Peña has given the play a wonderful, self-contained world of life and movement. At times it is almost too stylized...But still, it is the delicacy he has allotted to his actors that makes them ring so very true...His control over the script and its necessary actions is remarkable..I do believe that this is one play that will develop a life, best seen with these two actors and this director staging it." Full Review

Berkshire On Stage

for a previous production "Director Ralph B. Pena...moves his actors gracefully with no wasted movement or time. The slow evolution of the two characters relationship demands our empathy especially with the knowledge that they are worlds apart...'The Chinese Lady' is a warm delicate play, probably unlike anything you’ve seen before. It will touch your heart, fill your mind and have you remembering this brave woman who learns about life in a world that does not accept her." Full Review

Berkshire Edge

for a previous production "Playwright Lloyd Suh...confronts a potential wealth of storylines to dramatize what very little is known about the real-life Afong, but the effect ends up more intellectual than emotional...Through Afong, Suh muses about the philosophic nature of history, cultural appropriation, and similar serious topics...One wonders if the play would have more emotional resonance if Afong’s story was personalized more and politicized less...Peña directs cleanly and straightforwardly." Full Review

The Arts Fuse

for a previous production "The script’s self-conscious disconnect between realism and what is a kind of magic show...Atung and Moy have a lot to say about American history and culture — acutely informed by the playwright’s 21st century sensibility and identity politics. The play has been in development for several years, but it resonates more powerfully since the 2016 election...I left the theater feeling that this script needed more work, but was pleased to have been introduced to Afong Moy and Atung." Full Review

Manchester Journal

for a previous production "'The Chinese Lady' charges toward its if-you-haven't-gotten-it-by-now-here's-the-message conclusion that seeks hope in a culture that is unforgiving and cruel. The performances are acceptable; the style a subtle mix of Chinese theater and movement and Western style but the production grows tedious and loses novelty as it moves along its intermissionless 80 or so minutes." Full Review

Exquisite, Hilarious, Resonant

See it if You like entering worlds different from yours.

Don't see it if If you want you don’t want to think.

Also I found this play a timely reminder of who we are as a country. I read... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Exquisite, Funny, Great acting, Quirky

See it if You’re interested in the history of Chinese Americans. You like clever storytelling. You have a quirky sense of humor.

Don't see it if You cannot sit with one character for a long time.

Clever, Delightful, Entertaining, Great acting

See it if you enjoy some light history

Don't see it if you prefer musicals

Great writing, Relevant, Funny

See it if 'Dear white people, I was the hopeful caged bird and I don't want to sing anymore.' Cutting humor laid with cruel treatment of immigrants.

Don't see it if Don't like hearing how the US / white people have treated people poorly.

Also Ticket from online site with discount code for $38.88.

Great acting, Great writing, Resonant, Relevant, Thought-provoking

See it if meta-theatrical historical plays are you jam. Be ready for an uncompromising look at the history of anti-immigrant discrimination in America

Don't see it if You need naturalism in your plays. Uncomfortable facing America's racist past.

Also I jokingly described it to a friend as "the most depressing TED talk I... Read more Read less

Asian immigration in a charming historical tale

See it if Touching experience of Chinese girl brought to NY in 1834 as a freak show. Shannon Tyo portrays her as educated and dignified. Heartbreaking

Don't see it if Daniel K. Isaac is clever as her passive-aggressive translator/assistant. Isaac also has one of the most resonant voices on the NY stage.

Also Lloyd Suh also wrote the hilarious "Charles Francis Chan Jr.'s Exotic ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Great writing, Great staging

See it if you are curious about the history of the U.S. and its attitude towards non-white immigrants over the years.

Don't see it if you have no interest in stories about non-white immigrants/need to see something jolly. There are moments of humor, but...

Ambitious, Great acting, Great staging, Intense, Quirky

See it if Great acting, colorful staging, a misunderstood culture, immigration, and complex issues about expectations. Good production values.

Don't see it if The the work was still in progress when I saw it, re-writes currently being addressed.

Didactic, Political, Moving

See it if you're interested in how white America perceived & treated Chinese people in 19th century, & the toll it took on the Chinese.

Don't see it if you do not have a tolerance for long stretches of direct address in the theater.

Also I was moved & educated by “The Chinese Lady,” even though it’s a play ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Intelligent, Relevant, Thought-provoking

See it if the history of & on-going discrimination against & ill treatment of immigrants to this country interests you. Based on a true story.

Don't see it if You fear or avoid looking at our weak spots

Absorbing, Great acting, Intense

See it if great acting/script...very relevant to today's immigrant stuggles.

Don't see it if you don't like monologues and two character plays..

Clever, Enchanting, Quirky, Ponderous, Funny

See it if fan of writer Lloyd Suh, want to encourage Asian-American writers & performers, learn about history of Asian folk in sideshows, clever set

Don't see it if don't like idea of people put into sideshows, time jumping plots, 2-character plays with one gone for most of play,

Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Slow, Relevant, Quirky

See it if Suh's potent drama/fantasia about events in one woman's immigration to 1850's America Based in fact, it's power subtly creeps up on you

Don't see it if Despite being well acted & staged drama slowly grows static through a repetitive framing devise Didactic ending stilted but still powerful

Delightful, Enchanting

See it if you like good acting. Good costumes and set. If you like historical immigrant stories.

Don't see it if if you don't like plays where there isn't a lot of movement on stage. Where the story is repetitive.

Slow, Relevant, Thought-provoking, Clever, Strong acting

See it if you like history-based plays th illuminate prejud in USA. 1st Ch lady on US soil (14yo in 1834); was displayed to paying crowds. Two chars.

Don't see it if you want action. Sedentary staging. Repetitive structure. Insightful re: bias, cultural norms, mistreatmt of "other." Packs a punch.

Slow, Thought-provoking

See it if Want to experience a sad story of a Chinese woman who for years was expected to be an object in an American exhibit.

Don't see it if Expect fast action and drama, there is very little of that.

Thought-provoking, Ambitious, Indulgently knowing

See it if you enjoy a tale interweaving historical context and the philosophical impossibility of knowing the Other.

Don't see it if First person declamatory speeches annoys you.

Also Some anachronisms are distracting: the qipao worn at the later part of... Read more Read less

During previews
Great writing, Intelligent, Relevant, Thought-provoking, Resonant

See it if You'll permit a story as old as the wind, as old as the rain to deliver new truth to your heart.

Don't see it if See it now because it has a very limited run through 11/18.

During previews
Clever, Relevant, Quirky, Thought-provoking, Funny

See it if you want an interesting history lesson in a cleverly conveyed format. Gives an understanding of Chinese culture and US immigration history.

Don't see it if you don't like a "Groundhog Day" style format, don't like two-handers, or have no interest in history or the subject matter.

Also I saw this show over the summer when it premiered at Barrington Stage ... Read more Read less

During previews
Clever, Relevant, Resonant

See it if Politics. History. Enchanting performance by Shannon Tyo. Interesting Set

Don't see it if No need to arrive early.. Politics. History. Be prepared for the Ugly American reminders.

During previews
Relevant, Cliched, Ambitious, Staid, Enacted seminar

See it if you wish Suzan-Lori Parks’ Venus had a clearer message on imperialism & objectification; found The Greatest Showman disingenuous

Don't see it if you thought Venus was crystal clear/kind of passé; if Greatest Showman’s cheery msg of acceptance still outperforms a grim history lecture

Also Pros: Recommended viewing if you sense you’re behind on America’s mult... Read more Read less

During previews
Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Intense, Great acting, Relevant

See it if You want thoughtful relevant theater. S. Tyo charms in a demanding role, but Daniel Issac's elegant, puissant performance is the cornerstone

Don't see it if You are not willing to sit through 90 minutes of thought provoking theater and history

Cast & Creatives (9)