The other night, I sat in a beautiful, darkened theater on W. 42nd Street, sipping a Rum and Diet Coke while watching a play that first moved me 32 years ago. Re-acquainting myself with the long-forgotten dialogue and specific scenes was like suddenly reconnecting with an old friend. The experience was wonderfully intimate and rejuvenating!
Back in 1981 when “Dance and the Railroad” opened at Joe Papp’s Public Theater downtown, I was thrilled. I was a year out of grad school and just breaking into the very, very white world of journalism. Between being a little yellow speck of dust and growing up in the ghetto subculture of New York City’s Chinatown, “Dance and the Railroad” offered validation of my immigrant family’s experience.
It was mind-blowing to think that a 20-something Chinese-American guy had written a play that was getting great buzz in our community — and beyond. The piece, by David Henry Hwang, was set in the 1800s, with two Chinamen talking about the hope and bitterness of their lives as exploited workers building the railroad in David’s home state of California.
Fast forward to February 2013 at the gorgeous Signature Center (480 W. 42nd St.), way over near 11th Avenue. On a freezing Sunday night, I watched the 70-minute play again with my younger self sitting right next to me. So this is why old people love nostalgia, haha! The reuniting of my past and present selves in that theatermade me feel fully multi-dimensional. Not exactly like I was young again; more like maybe, I never really got old — especially since David’s exploration of identity remains central for me.
Yes, I’m still a seeker. But I am different now. So is the world.
David, who has won more awards and accolades than I can fit into this blog post, remains an artistic resource for us all, Asian or otherwise. Over the years, I have seen almost everything he has done. Of course, some of his pieces move me more than others. But that’s the fun and inspiration in following him: David is always challenging himself, which means that he is always challenging me.
This was my first visit to The Signature and it’s worth a trip. If you go early, there’s a book store, lovely cafe with food, beverages and booze.
Now that I have the lay of the land, I am ready to return when the Fall/Winter theater season kicks off with the world premiere of “Kung Fu,” David’s take on Bruce Lee. THIS IS TOO EXCITING!!!!
As for the current Off-Broadway run for “Dance and Railroad,” it was just extended through March 24. Here is the link for buying tickets, which are only $25 each.
All of us are now operating on a global stage where the world has changed so much. I was reminded of the changes last night, as I watched the Oscars. There were cute Asian guys in the TV commercials! And at some moments when the camera panned to the audience, it seemed like every other white man in Hollywood had an Asian wife. Both of these developments merit separate discussions. My only point is that the conversational talking points on identity issues is expanding and deepening on multiple fronts…
For myself personally, certain topics (like tiger parents) can still get me in a rage. But I am also a happier and more fulfilled person than in the past. This reality, I think, makes me more creative in approaching issues that piss me off. After all, life is too short to waste it on just venting.
That’s why it’s so great to have David out there expressing himself. Over the years that we’ve gotten to know each other through shared community projects, I’ve really appreciated his steadfastness in tackling issues as an artist. David, you’re the best. xoxoxoxoxo.