Saturday, January 14, 2012

Modern Beijing from an American Playwright’s Perspective

As I sat in the audience at the Vineyard Theatre waiting for Zayd Dohrn’s Outside People to begin, I overheard a gentleman behind me telling an unseen theater partner that Mr. Dohrn’s lived in hiding for 4 years as a child. At the time, I knew nothing of Mr. Dohrn’s history. But after hearing this and watching the funny and fast paced 90 minute play that is being compared to David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish on Broadway, I was intrigued by the playwright, who I assumed was American not of Chinese heritage.   

Well, Zayd Dohrn I later found out is the son of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. Yes, the Bill Ayers that most recently hit media spotlight during the Obama presidential campaign.  Yes, radical Weather Underground, FBI most wanted, 11 years living under assumed names, now retired college professor Ayers. Dohrn is named after murdered Black Panther Zayd Shakur and his brother is named after Malcolm X.

Dohrn lived on and off in China. After meeting in graduate school, Dohrn married writer Rachel DeWoskin. Ms. DeWoskin’s spent her 20s in China where she starred in a TV soap opera called Foreign Babes in Beijing; she speaks Mandarin and wrote a novel Repeat After Me about the romance between an ESL teacher and a Chinese radical. Dohrn and DeWorskin are now working on a HBO series based on her memoir also called Foreign Babes in Beijing.

Radical beginnings. Marriage to an ex-American soap star in Beijing. Hmmm, I guess that is how an American playwright not of Chinese heritage winds up writing a play about contemporary China. Interesting.
Dohrn's Outside People plays through the end of the month. Reviews have been mixed but this play about culture shock, fitting in, love and modern Beijing is worth experiencing. Some of the lines by Nelson Lee's character -Da Wei "David" Wang - still have me thinking (e.g., are all great countries built on some form of slavery). Check out reviews of Outside People here.

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