Artistic Statement from Adapter of Wild Boar, David Henry Hwang

Gregory Costanzo Headshot.jpg

A Silk Road Across the Pacific

The American debut of Hong Kong playwright Candace Chong Mui-Ngam at Silk Road Rising represents the coming together of many communities. I met Candace in 2004 at the Lark Play Development Center in New York City. Not long out of Drama School, she had received a grant from the Asian Cultural Council to study American theatre. She was then as she is today: funny, irreverent, fierce, and kind. I read a draft of her play The French Kiss, based on the true incident of a clergyman accused of sexual harassment, and was deeply impressed. Taking a story that could easily have been reduced to black and white, Candace unearthed its ambiguity, complexity, and humanity. We became colleagues and friends.

Candace has subsequently emerged as arguably the most important playwright Hong Kong has produced, a four-time winner of its Drama Award for Best Script. In 2008, when I decided to write a bilingual play in English and Mandarin, despite the fact that I don’t speak Chinese, I knew who I would approach as my translator. Happily, Candace agreed to work with me, and we enjoyed a wonderful collaboration on Chinglish, first at the Goodman Theatre, then on Broadway.

In 2013, as part of my residency at New York’s Signature Theatre, I curated a Contemporary Chinese Playwrights Series, in partnership with the Lark. In a world where China and the U.S. find themselves increasingly interdependent, yet know so little about one another, I felt theatre could play an important role to forge new communities across the Pacific.

We selected one dramatist each from Beijing, Shanghai, and Taiwan. Representing Hong Kong, we invited Candace Chong Mui-Ngam, who chose her play Wild Boar. After going through a process to create English translations, we brought the authors to New York for public readings of their plays. It became my turn to translate Candace’s work, based on a literal translation by our mutual friends and cultural experts, Joanna Lee and Ken Smith.

Wild Boar feels even more relevant today than in 2012, when it premiered in Hong Kong. Since its return to China in 1997, Hong Kongers have wondered if Beijing would curtail civil liberties and freedom of expression in the former British colony. When she wrote Wild Boar, Candace was growing acutely aware of self-censorship in the press, stemming from both political and economic pressure to avoid offending the Mainland.

Today, twenty years later, the relationship between Hong Kong and China has only grown more tense. Candace has put her activism where her art is. She voiced her support of 2014’s Occupy Central/Umbrella pro-democracy movement, advocating for local candidates independent of Beijing and campaigning to be part of the process herself. Recently, as a spokesperson for the group Artists Action, she spoke out against government intervention into cultural content and creeping self-censorship.

Of course, in 2012, few would have predicted that such threats to civil liberties would soon infect our own country. In giving this play its American premiere, Silk Road Rising builds a road connecting Candace’s community with our own. In our current national moment, Wild Boar has also become an American story.