In 2016, a group of eight Chinese dissidents filed a class action lawsuit against a US-based IT company for personal damages resulting from its collusion with the Chinese government on The Golden Shield project, which operates the Bureau of Public Information and Network Security Monitoring. , and the Internet censorship and surveillance subproject called the Great Firewall of China. This real-life international drama inspired Australian playwright Anchuli Felicia King’s golden shielda fictionalized account of the court case, its background and aftermath, now making its American debut in a limited Off-Broadway engagement with the Manhattan Theater Club at New York City Center.
The provocative non-linear narrative is presented as a series of short vignettes set in the United States, China and Melbourne from 2006 to 2016, interspersed with direct commentary from The Translator, a likeable character who brings humor and insight to the story. , and recognizes that his work includes both interpretation and verbatim translation. It’s a truth that can and does lead to trouble when attorney Julie Chen hires her younger sister Eva as a translator for her preliminary questioning of leading Chinese plaintiff and witness Li Dao, setting off a chain of painful personal and professionals. consequences.
Directed by May Adrales, the riveting production examines the ethics involved in business, government and law with an engaging mix of laughter, anger and intrigue, expertly delivered by an excellent cast of eight. The exceptional Fang Du takes the lead as a translator, who also serves as an expressive and witty narrator, gently illuminating the difficulties of communicating accurately when there is no accurate translation from Mandarin to English. and explaining what the characters really mean with both their words and their body language.
Cindy Cheung and Ruibo Qian star as estranged sisters Julie and Eva, whose recently deceased tyrannical mother caused emotional damage to both of them, exacerbated by Julie’s departure from China and her ten-year-old brother for college. Cheung is incredibly enterprising, driven, and impatient as a lawyer, driven more by the greater cause she fights for than by concern for her client, determined to win at all costs, and repeatedly mocking and questioning the less accomplished Eva on how she makes a living and if it’s legal. It’s a secret that is later revealed and highlights Qian’s self-contained but broken and uncommunicative character, in a subplot that stretches the length and contributes little to the central theme (as is the case with his encounter with a drunken bar with activist Amanda Carlson, played compassionately by Gillian Saker).
Max Gordon Moore is hateful and bad-tempered as greedy and conniving businessman Marshall McLaren, President of China Operations, who pushes for a bigger, more lucrative contract with the Chinese government, despite the moral issues associated with the firewall project. He is then intentionally and infuriatingly put on the witness stand after advising—along with the company’s strategically dishonest chief legal officer Jane Bolling (also played by Saker)—coworker and Vice President Larry Murdoch to destroy evidence of their relationship. Murdoch is portrayed with equivocal shyness by Daniel Jenkins, who doubles as Richard Warren, Julie’s partner in the law firm and co-lawyer on the case, whom she neglects to consult on a major decision, and which also conceals a great secret. .
Rounding out the compelling cast are Michael C. Liu as professor and Chinese dissident Li Dao, who is committed to his militant beliefs and suffers severe physical abuse and imprisonment for them, and Kristen Hung in the antithetical roles of Chinese cold no frills. Deputy Minister Gao Shenwei, who is negotiating the Firewall contract with McLaren and Murdoch, and Li Dao’s concerned and loving wife Huang Mei, who is devastated by his activism and decision to testify in the United States, on the basis from a deliberate mistranslation by the sympathetic Eva.
An efficient post-modern stage design in dots, with elegant openwork panels, moves easily from one international venue to another. Lighting by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew and original music and sound by Charles Coes and Nathan A. Roberts heighten the drama (Li Dao’s apprehension is especially heartbreaking), and costumes by Sara Ryung Clement, with hair and a wig designed by Tom Watson, capture the professions and status of the characters, from the tailored costumes and grooming of lawyers, businessmen and civil servants to the more casual styles of Eva and Amanda.
The repercussions of the court’s final verdict can be seen in short follow-up scenes of personal interactions between pairs of characters that feel anti-climactic and might need some tightening. But they serve to show the range of reactions and the psychology of flawed personalities, whose behavior, like language, doesn’t always translate well, but says a lot.
Duration: Approximately 2h20, intermission included.
golden shield plays through Sunday, June 12, 2022 at the Manhattan Theater Club, performing at New York City Center, Stage 1, 131 West 55and Street, New York. For tickets (priced at $39-89), call (212) 581-1212 or drop by in line. Everyone must present proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to enter the building and must wear a mask at all times inside.