A snappy comedy of linguistic and cultural confusion, David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish is ready-made for anyone who’s ever traveled abroad and puzzled at signs reading “Fuck the Certain Price of Goods” (that would be “Dry Goods Pricing Department”). It’s a very neat play about a very tangled subject, and director May Adrales’ production at Portland Center Stage, with its whirling scenery, crisp performances and brisk pace, is solid. The story follows a naive Ohioan named Daniel Cavanaugh (an appropriately galumphing Peter O’Connor) who travels to a midsize Chinese city to score a contract for his sign-making business. He’s the guy, he tells the ministry of culture, who will ensure the handicapped restroom isn’t marked “Deformed Man’s Toilet.” Much of the play is in Mandarin, with English supertitles projected above the actors, and these messy translations prove one of the play’s chief pleasures. This farce of miscommunication quickly becomes a study of love across cultures when Daniel launches an affair with a government official, played with captivating hilarity and emotional resonance by Tina Chilip. The pair’s chemistry is dubious, yet there’s something richly satisfying about the waves of exasperation, relief and exhaustion they experience with each attempt to converse: O’Connor flailing and gasping, Chilip balled-up and fidgety. Though too tidily constructed, Chinglish is a zippy diversion—even if, unlike the characters, we’re never really cast into the murky waters of misunderstanding.
SEE IT: Chinglish is at the Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Sundays; 2 pm Saturdays-Sundays; noon some Thursdays through Feb. 9. $29-$69.