Identity in Motion: Tony Award Winner David Henry Hwang Discusses Golden Child, Hybrid Americans, and Silk Road Theatre Project / by R. Sheth

January 9, 2007
News Release

Silk Road Theatre Project to present the Midwest premiere of Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang's Golden Child (March 1 – April 22, 2007), directed by Stuart Carden.

In an age of rising fundamentalism – cultural, religious, ethnic – Silk Road Theatre Project responds with a powerful story of cross-cultural negotiation in early 20th century China. In Golden Child, a Chinese family struggles to balance age old tradition with encroaching "modernization." According to playwright Hwang, "one could argue that the primary narrative of our age is movement across borders, and the socio-cultural negotiations that ensue. [The rise of fundamentalism] can be considered a reaction to the dissolution of identities perceived to have been previously distinct and sacrosanct."

The seeds that inspired Hwang to write Golden Child were planted when he was just ten years old. "My maternal grandmother fell ill," he explains. "We all thought she was going to pass away. She was the person who kept all the family history, so I felt that it would be doubly tragic were all her stories to be lost as well." Hwang spent the following summer visiting his grandmother in the Philippines and collecting an oral history of his family. From her stories, a 90-page "non-fiction novel" was written. However, it was not until decades later that Hwang revisited the manuscript and--encouraged by the late William A. Henry III, former theatre critic for TIME magazine--turned his family stories into the play that became Golden Child. Incidentally, his grandmother survived her illness and saw the play prior to its Broadway debut. In the meantime, Hwang decided "[Christianity] wasn't working for me, and struggled for many years to overcome some of its more harmful legacies." As part of this process, he wrote several plays in which Christianity played a central role: Family Devotions, Rich Relations, and finally, Golden Child. In his original novel, Hwang portrayed his great-grandfather (who became the Tieng-Bin character) in a very saintly manner. His text thoroughly endorses the decision to convert to Christianity. In the first two of the "Christian" plays, Hwang states that "I go to the other extreme and pretty much skewer the religion. Golden Child is my attempt to strike a balance--to recognize that Teing-Bin's decision has both altruistic and selfish motivations, both positive and negative consequences."

Unlike most Broadway productions, Golden Child had more productions before its premiere on the "Great White Way" than since. The journey to bring the play to its present form began at New York's Public Theatre. Then, Hwang muses, it "embarked on a long, August Wilson-type development process through several theatres." Golden Child traveled from the South Coast Repertory (in Southern California, where it was originally commissioned), Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center, Singapore Repertory Theatre, and San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre before premiering on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre. The play went through numerous rewrites and revisions during this time. Since its Broadway run, the play has had only two professional productions prior to Silk Road Theatre Project's.

The issues portrayed in Golden Child are incredibly important to modern society. As borders begin to fade and globalization becomes more commonplace, it is important to examine the consequences of these events to the cultures they affect. "When I first began writing APA (Asian Pacific American) stories and themes as a college student and young man, I believed issues like 'identity' and 'assimilation' were unique to the particular experience of being a 'hyphenated' American. As I've grown older, however, I realize that cross-cultural negotiation is just as critical an issue in Asia itself, as these root cultures attempt to define themselves in an inter-related, globalized world, where American pop serves as the 'cultura franca.'"

Because of the difficult cross-cultural issues that Hwang tackles in Golden Child, a theatre company looking to produce it would need to possess a strong presence and innovative mission. Silk Road emerged as an ideal place for the play to be produced again. "I knew of Silk Road simply as a young, exciting Chicago-based theatre company whose mission included the production of APA works. I'm deeply impressed by the soundness and clarity of their artistic mission, as well as the professionalism and innovation with which they are pursuing these goals." The theatre company's mission to explore the stories and cultures of the historic Silk Road was a perfect parallel to the story told in Golden Child and its relevance to contemporary society.

"Silk Road's vision directly addresses the challenges faced by 21st century America, seeking answers and understanding vital to our nation's continued growth and prosperity." Hwang continues, "I am moved by the reality that culture has always been the product of mongrelization, of ideas and customs from different locales influencing and changing each other. The Silk Road of old is the perfect representation of this notion, as it was literally the pathway on which this process took place over many hundred years of human history. The difference now is that cultural exchanges which once happened over a thousand years take place in a matter of weeks or months. Today, we all live along the Silk Road." In terms of how this affects him personally as an Asian American artist, Hwang muses: "I am simply another traveler along that Road, excited by and open to the many new thoughts and visions I am encountering along my way."