**** Highly Recommended **** Once again, TimeLine Theatre brings us a thoughtful, well-researched, intelligent play about a person who appears briefly in American history. In 1834, a pair of American merchants brought a 14-year-old Chinese girl to America and put her on display. Playwright Lloyd Suh has given that girl a voice in The Chinese Lady. Mi Kang, who graduates from Northwestern with an MFA later this year, gives a tour de force performance as Afong Moy, The Chinese Lady. 4 BIG Spotlights
Theater Wit’s stage has been enclosed in a red wooden frame with a gold curtain. Red Chinese lanterns hang above the frame, with a gold cord hanging at each end. Below the stage, there’s a small table and a stool on one side, another small table on the other.
After carefully checking the drape of the curtain, a man named Atung (Glenn Obrero), pulls the cord, then takes a seat on the stool at the side of the stage. The curtain opens to reveal a young woman wearing Chinese robes in a red room lined with shelves displaying Chinese art, porcelain and artifacts.
She introduces herself as Afong Moy – who, in reality, would never have spoken when on display. She said that she was brought to America in 1834, when she was fourteen years old. Her parents sold their youngest child to the American merchants for two years.
People paid 25 cents (just 10 cents for a child) to view Afong Moy – and all the Chinese merchandise available for purchase. Her ‘job’ was to sit on a chair in the center of the room. Because people were curious about her feet – she explained that horrific process in detail – she would stand and slowly walk around her chair. Finally, Atung would bring a tray of food. She would show her chopsticks, then slowly eat strange American food. Finally, she would brew, pour, sip a cup of tea, and Atung would close the curtain.
Each the curtain opened, years had passed, and Afong Moy wore an ever more elaborate costume and hairdo. Obviously she was not returned to China after two years. Her routine remained the same, although the price of admission went up. She was taken on tour, going to many cities on the east coast. She was especially excited about Baltimore. Eventually, her room was sold to P.T. Barnum and she and Atung became part of his sideshow. When she was in her forties, Barnum imported a new fourteen-year-old from China and turned her loose. Nothing was ever recorded about her after that.
In the final vignette, she recounts the many episodes of violence against the Chinese, starting with the 1871 Chinese Massacre in Los Angeles in which 19 people were murdered and Chinatown looted and ending with examples of recent attacks on Asian people across America.
Mi Kang has such an expressive face, all youth. smiles and animation. It’s almost impossible to imagine her sitting still, staring into space, not smiling, never moving, as
Note: Guests must show proof of vaccination before entering the theater. Guests are required to wear masks while inside the building.
TimeLine Theatre’s production of The Chinese Lady runs through June 18th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago. Parking is available in Theater Wit’s lot across the street, $8.00 payable at box office. Running time is 90 minutes, no intermission.
Performances are: Wednesday & Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8:00 pm, Saturday at 4:00 & 8:00 and Sundays at 2:00 pm, with an additional matinee on Tuesday, June 14th at 2:00 pm. Tickets for The Chinese Lady range from $42-$57. TimeLine is a member of TCG’s Blue Star Theatre Program and is offering $25 tickets to U.S. military personnel, veterans, first responders, and their spouses and family. FYI (773) 281-8463 x6 or www.timelinetheatre.com.