CANCELLED: David Hwang Comes to Just Buffalo BABEL Series

by / Nov. 11, 2014 11am EST


Next week, Just Buffalo Literary Center will welcome David Henry Hwang on November 19 as the latest addition to the BABEL series. Named for that ancient allegory in which people are divided by language barriers, the BABEL series focuses on a range of authors and texts that address cultural tension and the complexities of identity formation. In keeping with that artistic vision, David Henry Hwang is a particularly fitting addition to the lineup.

A literary force if not something of a playwright prodigy, Hwang received his first Obie (read: Off-Broadway) Award at 22; his first Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, and Pulitzer Price nomination in his early 30s; and he has been described by TIME magazine as potentially “the first important dramatist of American public life since Arthur Miller.”

Perhaps most well-known for his 1988 play, M. Butterfly, a contemporary re-telling of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and the ripped-from-the-headlines scandal of a French diplomat accused of espionage for having an affair with a Chinese communist spy who, he claimed (seriously), he mistook for a woman. This type of confusion is at the heart of so many of Hwang’s plays which return insistently to themes of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

From his first play, FOB (1980), written as an undergraduate at Stanford University, to more recent plays such as Yellow Face (2007) and Ch’inglish (2011), Hwang uses humor to interrogate gender and racial stereotypes. In Ch’inglish, the critique is leveled at the American tendency to fetishize Asian women and Orientalism in general while also taking on the East’s suspicions of Western economic practices and corporate corruption. Though cultural conflict is hardly the stuff of comedy, Hwang succeeds in keeping audiences not merely entertained but laughing out loud. 

At the same time, his comedy doesn’t shy away from addressing serious issues. Sarah Bay-Cheng, UB Professor of Theatre and Founding Director of the Techne Institute for Arts and Emerging Technologies, notes that Hwang’s “collected works in theatre, opera, television, film, and dance reveal an artist who is consistently pushing boundaries no matter what form he engages.”

His list of collaborators alone is a testament to the breadth of his career: Prince, Philip Glass, Elton John and Tim Rice, Phil Collins, and Aimee Mann. His forays into film and television include writing the screenplays for David Cronenberg’s screen adaptation of M. Butterfly; the NBC mini-series, The Lost Empire; and just one of his latest developments, Shanghai, an original TV series slated for Bravo.

“I can’t think of a more inspirational and important playwright for my students to see,” Bay-Cheng adds. “Sometimes in the presence of great artists, one can feel diminished. But, reading Hwang with my students, we see what is possible.” 

Hwang will meet with students for a special event at the Just Buffalo Writing Center in the afternoon. Then, for those interested in celebrating Hwang’s Chinese heritage, BABEL Community Nights returns to Karpeles Manuscript Museum (453 Porter Avenue) at 6pm. BABEL fans—BABEL-ers, shall we say?—can enjoy authentic food, music, and dance featuring the Chinese Club of WNY and the Red Dragon School of Martial Arts before heading down the street to see David Henry Hwang take the stage at Kleinhans Music Hall at 8pm.

Hwang’s talk will be followed by audience Q&A and book signing. Tickets are available online at Just Buffalo’s website, by phone (716-832-5400) or at the doors of Kleinhans on the night of the event.