There's a Superpower in My Soup: Playwrights Frances Ya-Chu Cowchic and Christopher Chen Assess the Role China Plays in Their Works

By Tran, Diep | American Theatre, February 2015 | Go to article overview

There's a Superpower in My Soup: Playwrights Frances Ya-Chu Cowchic and Christopher Chen Assess the Role China Plays in Their Works


Tran, Diep, American Theatre


There are only two roads to walk down. There were only ever two choices. You can see the truth--and always be in pain. Or we can look away and be rich. And safe. And happy.

--The World of Extreme Happiness

FRANCES YA-CHU COWHIG LIKES TO JOKE THAT she and Christopher Chen are each other's doppelgangers. Both playwrights are half Chinese, half Caucasian--Cowhig's Chinese heritage comes from her mother's side, Chen's from his father's. While Cowhig spent her younger years in China, Chen grew up on the other side of the Pacific in San Francisco.

The mirroring doesn't end with Asian ancestry. This season, both writers have had plays produced that deal with modern China and the heady topics the superpower evokes, including human rights violations, factory work, censorship and pervasive propaganda. Cowhig's play The World of Extreme Happiness (playing Feb. 3-24 at Manhattan Theatre Club after a run earlier this season at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago) is a realistic exploration of the lives of Chinese migrant factory workers in present-day China, and what happens when one worker in particular has the audacity to change her fortunes.

Chen's play Caught, which premiered at InterAct Theatre Company in Philadelphia, is a meta-theatrical look at truth versus fiction, taking on such hot-button topics as Chinese political prisons and Foxconn (with references to Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs thrown in for good measure). But, unlike Cowhig, his take on the topic is less realistic; the entire play is set in an art gallery.

Chen's previous China-themed play The Hundred Flowers Project was similarly deconstructive, examining what happens when a group of artists decide to create a play about Mao Tse Tung's Cultural Revolution. The play they devise takes on a life of its own and starts rewriting itself, until what was originally a piece denouncing propaganda becomes propaganda personified. Hundred Flowers had a production earlier this season at Silk Road Rising in Chicago.

Since the two writers find themselves on opposite sides of the country these days--Chen is based in San Francisco while Cowhig, a self-proclaimed nomad, is currently anchored in New York City--getting them in a room together was impossible. Over a three-way Skype video call, the playwrights discussed their fascination with China, its place in their plays, and their individual processes for blending the personal and the inevitably political.

DIEP TRAN: How did the two of you meet?

CHRISTOPHER CHEN: It was through a mutual friend. We got to talking and we just hit it off, like we were long-lost siblings. [To Cowhig] And then you came over and you spent some time here.

FRANCES YA-CHU COWHIG: Yeah, in the summer of 2009, I had a three-week gap between two writing colonies so I asked Chris if I could stay with him at his "writing colony" (San Francisco apartment) and he said yes. And it's actually while I was staying with him that I met my current partner, Brian, so Chris is kind of the godfather of our partnership.

CHEN: I get your firstborn.

COWHIG: That's my dog; you can't have her.

Have either of you spent time in China?

CHEN: Very, very briefly. On a trip with my parents a long time ago, we went to visit my father's old house in Shanghai. Then in 2009, I was in Beijing for a month working on a play called Into the Numbers at the Beijing Fringe Festival. The play, translated into Chinese, was inspired by [the late author] Iris Chang's book The Rape of Nanking. That was it. Frances has lived there for an extended period of time, though.

COWHIG: I lived in the U.S. until I was nine. My dad joined the U.S. State Department, and then I lived in Taiwan for two years, Okinawa for two years and Beijing for five years. I was in Beijing during high school, which was right before Beijing got the Olympics bid, so it was a period of crazy change. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

There's a Superpower in My Soup: Playwrights Frances Ya-Chu Cowchic and Christopher Chen Assess the Role China Plays in Their Works
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.