The world premiere of A Deal at Urban Stages occurs just as the play is staged also being staged in China and one can’t help but wonder what lessons the Chinese audience will take away. A Deal depends on looking at stereotypes and assumptions with fresh eyes. That is a tough, but valuable, thing to ask audiences to do.
The funny comedy is deceptively simple. Wei-Yin Lin plays Li Su, a Chinese national who has just recently graduated from Colombia’s Master of Fine Arts program. Her parents, only known as Mr. and Mrs. Li, are played by Alan Ariano and Lydia Gaston. Mr. Li is a relatively high-ranking member of the Communist Party and he has put away some money to buy an apartment in New York for his daughter. He and his wife come to New York to buy an apartment and surprise their daughter. Mrs. Li has found memories of the stage when she was a younger woman and sympathizes with her daughter's dreams. They play then follows the child and her parents on concurrent paths.
|Lydia Gaston, Wei-Yi Lin and Alan Ariano in A Deal|
Li Su gets to opportunity to play the lead role in an off-Broadway play about a tragic abandoned Chinese girl and the system she struggles to grow up in. In order to sell herself to the producers, she convinces the backers and show-goers that she herself is an orphan, a product of the very system they are exposing. It is a poorly sold tale, but one the American backers are happy to exploit. This leads not just to Li Su getting the part, but to television appearances, panel discussions and relative fame. Her parents, who don’t understand English, are none the wiser.
Mr. and Mrs. Li, after being cheated out of a down payment in Shanghai, engage the services of Peter (Pun Bandhu) an old flame and acting partner of Mrs. Li, to help them find an apartment in New York. Peter left China years ago, and is now a real estate agent in New York. Their interaction revolves around trying to get them settled in the city and Peter’s devotion to Mrs. Li. Mr. Li is annoyed at the country, the city, his wife’s ex-partner and the lack of order that China provides. He also cannot understand the idea of “becoming” an American. The pull of understood versus unexpected and stability versus opportunity is amplified by the undercurrent of Peter’s affection for Mrs. Li and the conflict that creates with Mr. Li.
A Deal looks at the dichotomy of choices and outcomes between the old and the new. Not just defined as old equals China, but generation versus generation. The China which Peter left isn’t the China that Mr. and Mrs. Li live in now. Their stereotypes of America are reinforced, just American’s expectations of China are self-reinforcing. Playwright Zhu Yi does a great job of exploiting these assumptions for laughs, but still leaving enough steel underneath the laughs to make us question our assumptions.
Helen Coxe and Seth Moore pick up multiple roles in the show, and their great acting – as with the entire troupe, is critical for making the show work so well.
It is a very good play, and Zhu Yi will do great things. That said, there are some rough edges that will hit viewer. A Deal is made up of a series vignettes, and there are a lot of them for such a short show. Occasionally this makes the show a little choppy. Director John Giampietro does a great job of making them seamless, but there are still a lot of changes. The longer scenes just pack a deeper punch.
A Deal | Playwright: Zhu Yi | Director: John Giampietro | Cast: Alan Ariano, Pun Bandhu, Helen Coxe, Lydia Gaston, Wei-Yi Lin, Seth Moore | website