Playwright David Henry Hwang and the cast of Chinglish, which recently celebrated its Broadway opening, had another reason to cheer on November 7, when the cross-cultural comedy picked up a Jeff Award, Chicago’s highest theater honor, in the category of outstanding new play. Chinglish had its world premiere at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre earlier this year, and went on to be the most successful play in that theater’s history. Scenic designer David Korins picked up a second Jeff Award for his intricate rotating set, which has been re-created at Broadway's Longacre Theatre.
Broadway.com caught up with Hwang who, along with director Leigh Silverman and star Jennifer Lim (both Jeff Award nominees), traveled to Chicago for the ceremony. “We decided to go to the Jeffs because, whatever the outcome, we wanted to pay our respects and show our appreciation to Chicago for giving us an opportunity to launch our play there,” Hwang explained. “The fact that we won was a wonderful extra blessing. Chicago is a major theater town and a lot of new works debut there, so it’s wonderful to be given a stamp of approval.
“There was always a question with this,” Hwang continued, “of whether you can do a play that’s spoken one quarter in Mandarin and the audience has to read titles.” Inspired by the mangled mixture of languages inevitable in today's global economy, Chinglish chronicles the misadventures of an American businessman who travels to China looking to score a lucrative contact for his family's sign-making firm. “I think [the Jeff Award] certainly helps the future life of the play and helps potential producers see that you can do something like this—and that even if it seems a little scary and it hasn’t been tried before, it can be successful.”
While Hwang says he’s not looking ahead to New York’s awards season just yet (“it’s many months away and many things can happen”), he’s excited to celebrate this honor with his Broadway cast, most of whom were part of the Chicago production. “We have to find a day off when we’re all available,” he said with a laugh. “But we were all tweeting and texting each other that night. They're all, of course, very supportive and excited.”