Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Hyphenated American

Four Plays: Red, Scissors, A Beautiful Country, Wonderland

by Chay Yew Foreword by Craig Lucas Introduction by David Román

“[A] memorable volume of collected plays by one of the most hard-working, prolific, talented, tenacious–not to mention incredibly charming–playwrights of our generation.” –Asian Week

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 480
  • Publication Date November 15, 2002
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3912-2
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $18.00

About The Book

In a collection in which individual plays have been nominated for the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Playwriting Award, the PEN/USA West Literary Award, and the American Theatre Critics/Steinberg New Play Award, Chay Yew deftly investigates artistic expression and the immigrant experience.

In Red, a magical, mysterious drama set during China’s Cultural Revolution, a renowned actor stands his ground against a young revolutionary in a struggle that pits politics against free expression and one generation against another. Set in New York’s Chinatown, Scissors is a moving portrait of a weekly haircutting ritual between an elderly Chinese manservant and his Caucasian ex-employer. A Beautiful Country chronicles the turbulent history of Asians in America through the eyes of an immigrant drag queen, Miss Visa Denied. In Wonderland, a family working toward the American dream experiences dramatic and unexpected developments that threaten to shatter its hopes.


“Yew wrestles with the multiplicity of the Asian-American experience . . . [and] demonstrates the ability to shock and enlighten by writing it straight. It makes for a vital evening of theatre.” –Back Stage West/Dram-Logue

“[A] memorable volume of collected plays by one of the most hard-working, prolific, talented, tenacious–not to mention incredibly charming–playwrights of our generation.” –Asian Week



Foreword by Craig Lucas ix

Introduction by David Rom”n xi

Red 1

Scissors 153

A Beautiful Country 167

Wonderland 277


Upstage is a cyclorama.

In the center of the stage, there is a wooden platform where all the action of the play is performed.

Upstage is a passageway between the platform and the cyclorama where scenes can also be played.

The main idea is to keep the production simple and theatrical suggestion is key. Hence, a chair can be used to suggest a dressing table; actors can mime putting on makeup.

On the side of the stage are about five wooden chairs on each side. The stagehands will sit in these chairs and hand out the appropriate props to the actors; actors can also sit on these chairs if they are acting in their scenes.

The stagehands will also use the chairs to create sound effects.

Fluidity between scenes is key. Musical transitions can be used.


SONJA enters the front of the house and speaks to the audience.

SONJA Story of my life.

There I was,

at the height of my career,

swimming in a dizzying swamp

of parties, paparazzi,

press, and personalities.

I’m an author.

Sonja Wong Pickford.

You may have heard of me.

Love in the Jade Pagoda?

Bound Feet, Bound Lives?

If some of you haven’t,

visit your local bookstore,

look under “romance,”

and there I am After twenty years

in the business,

I grew tired

of churning out characters,

stories I didn’t care for.

Nothing spoke to me.

Nothing moved me.

Truth be told,

I was also afraid to die,

and leave behind

a legacy of ethnic romances

to my name.

With the deadline of my next book

looming around the corner,

I thought

I’d write something more

than my usual fare.

Something important.

Something big.

Something credible.


nothing came to me.


I took a trip to China.

I thought

a change of environment,

of air,

may just be the right thing.

Lights change to indicate that Sonja is in China. She walks to the other side of the front of house.

SONJA On my first day there,

I took to wandering

the streets of Shanghai.

Feeling tired

from an entire day,

immersing in a noisy ocean

of street pedestrians,

buzzing cars

whizzing bicycles,

I sought refuge

walking on the smaller,

quieter, untraveled side streets.

In one particular alley,

I suddenly

came across

an opera theatre.

Sonja turns and looks up on stage. Sonja sees a mass of chairs strewn about on stage.


yet strangely familiar,

the theatre flooded me

with a curious sense of d”j” vu.

A dignified building,


it was tucked away

amongst the taller,

newer, grayer monstrosities

in which the Chinese now live.

(Climbs on stage and onto the platform)

It was derelict,



Its terra-cotta roof

left mostly unshingled.

A red Communist flag

fluttering defiantly

on the very same roof.

(Gestures with her hands as if opening a door)

When I shoved the doors open,

I was immediately assaulted.

A sharp stab of mold

in the dank air.

Upon careful scrutiny

I found broken, deflated red lanterns

resting on dirt floors.

Next to the lanterns were

riveting embroidered pictures of

blazing phoenixes,

fiery dragons,

in fight,

in flight,

adorning silk stage curtains

that were once found hanging

in front of the proscenium,

a grand welcome,

to visitors of this inner sanctum.

The walls,

you could tell,

were once

brightly and opulently


in majestic gold.


they peeled

like dull moths.

I got up

on the dilapidated stage.

Stared into

the silent sea

of broken chairs

where people once sat.

I’ve never felt

more alone

in my life.

(Walks to another part of the stage)

Then I made my way

back stage.


I found a dressing table

covered by

a gentle carpet of dust.

Sonja rests her head on the table.


Sounds of applause.

HUA enters.

When he sees Sonja resting her head on the dressing table, he claps his hands loudly.

Sonja wakes up in a start.

SONJA Excuse me–

I didn’t think anyone was–

Sonja stands up. Hua sits down at the table. Sonja glares at Hua.

HUA Tourist?


not really–


HUA Tours to the theatre were at three–

you’re late–

SONJA I thought

this theatre was abandoned and–

HUA Are you a fan?


HUA I am not receiving any fans today.

SONJA I know you–

HUA Many do–

SONJA You are–

Sonja struggles to remember. Hua glares at Sonja.

HUA Master Hua–

SONJA Yes–Hua Wai Mun–

HUA The famous opera star–

SONJA I thought you were–

HUA Now that I’ve satisfied your curiosity,

please leave.


Sonja stands staring at Hua.

HUA Why are you still here?

SONJA Do you know who I am?

HUA Must I?

SONJA I’m–Sonja Wong Pickford.

HUA You are in my way.

I have an entrance to make.

Hua gets up and walks to the wings.

Music transition.


On stage.

Sonja stands unobtrusively at the corner of the stage observing the following scene.

Sonja enters every LING and Hua scene throughout the play as a silent observer.

Hua sings an aria. With grace and beauty, he croons the aria with delight, precision, and passion.

HUA “I flee

from the valley of my home

my world

my life

I flee

toward mountains of uncertainty

I wonder

if I will again be home

I wonder

which path will lead me home”

At the most climatic moment of his song, Ling, wearing a Red Guard uniform, bursts into the house.


Hua keeps singing.

LING Hey you!

Stop singing at once!

Come down from there!

Do you hear me?

Stop singing filth

on the People’s stage!

Hua glares at Ling and deliberately ignores her. He keeps singing.

LING Are you listening?

You dare sing such nonsense!

Come down at once!

Come down now!

Hua continues to sing louder and more histrionically.

LING What you are singing is


Ling bolts up onto the stage and stands beside him. She sings a revolutionary song loudly, drowning Hua out.

LING “Our red flag flies

defiant in the sky!

Our red army

will expand!

On blue-collared comrades

we’ll depend!

Our red country

we’ll defend!”

Both Hua and Ling compete with each other. The orchestra stops playing.

Finally, a glaring Hua gives up and leaves in a huff.

Looking at him, Ling continues to sing in triumph.


Back stage.

From the previous scene, Hua enters and goes to the dressing table. He takes off his costume and makeup.

HUA You!

Don’t just stand there

like a blinking fool!

Alert Stage Manager Kong.

Tell him never to let

those Red Guard hooligans

into my theater again!

They disrupt my performance!

Hua tosses his costume to Sonja.

HUA Here!

Have them cleaned and pressed

by tomorrow afternoon.

The way I like it.

And where’s my tea?

Hua exits in a huff.


On stage.

Hua stands on a chair. As a punishment, he is holding the same opera costume, from the last scene, with his outstretched arms.

Ling paces the stage.

HUA “I wonder

if I will again

be home

I wonder

which path

will lead me home”


ling (Sweetly) Sing.


This time,

with more feeling.

HUA I can’t anymore.


The last time–

was just lovely–

HUA Please–

LING Please, Comrade Ling.


HUA Please, Comrade Ling,

I can’t anymore.

LING Isn’t this the same theater,

the same stage,

where you’ve always graced

the good people of China

with your little songs?


you cannot deprive us

of your theatrical gifts now, Comrade Hua.

You have a responsibility.

Come on.


For the people.

For the esteemed Chairman.


there’s no one here in the theater!

I sing for audiences,

not for empty–

LING Pretend it’s a rehearsal–

HUA I’m tired.

LING Sing!

Hua sings in a hoarse and beaten voice.

HUA “I flee

from the–”

LING That’s not good enough!

You must put some heart into it.


From the beginning.


I’ve sung this aria

more than twenty times today.

LING And I like it

every time I hear it.

HUA I can’t anymore,

please, Comrade Ling.

LING You can.

HUA I said

I can’t.

LING And I said you can.

HUA I’m exhausted.

LING You have to ren.

Hua glares at Ling.

HUA Ren.



You have to endure.

The aria is so beautiful.

When does

the White-Haired Damsel

sing it?

HUA I don’t remember.

LING I do.

Just after

she’s been brutally raped

by the evil landlord,

she sings it,

while escaping

into the dark cold mountains.


Oh and

throw some of your acting

into the song.




Hua gets off the chair.

LING Sing!

Hua stands glaring at Ling.


LING Sing!

Ling slaps Hua across the face.

ling (Softly) Sing.


Ling slaps Hua across the face.

LING Sing.


Ling slaps Hua across the face.

LING Sing.

Hua falls to the ground. He sings a quiet and beautiful aria. Ling hauls Hua off the ground and throws the costume back into his arms.

HUA “I flee

from the valley of my home

my world

my life–”

Ling throws her head back, closes her eyes.

LING Beautiful.

Simply beautiful.


Back stage.

From the previous scene, Hua enters and goes to his dressing table.

HUA Why are you still here?

Go away.

SONJA Are you all right?

HUA I’m in pain.

What do you want?

SONJA I would like to speak to you.

HUA I can’t speak

to any more government officials.

Interrogate me tomorrow.

I need my rest.

Hua points off stage.

HUA See?

The door over there?

Use it.

SONJA I’m not from the government.

HUA Who are you then?

SONJA I’m a writer.

HUA I don’t make a habit

of speaking to journalists.

Leave me.

SONJA Not a journalist.

An author.

HUA Books?

SONJA Books.

Hua looks at Sonja for the first time.

HUA An artist.

SONJA I guess so.

HUA There are no “guess so’s’

in what we do.

You are either

an artist

or you’re not.

Don’t waste my time.

sonja (Hesitantly) Yes.

I am.

An artist.

HUA My robe.

Over there.

By the screens.

Hua points off stage.


you are a writer.



tell me.

What subjects?

Your books?

SONJA Romance.

HUA I guess

we all have to make a living.

Sonja retrieves Hua’s robe and hands it to him. Hua doesn’t take the robe. Instead, he stretches his arms out. A beat later, Sonja helps Hua into his robe.

SONJA I know what you are thinking.

Most of my novels

topped the

New York Times Best-Sellers List.

Translated into

twenty languages around the world.

Some of them were made into TV movies.

Bound Feet, Bound Lives.

Love in the Jade Pagoda.

People consider me to be

the Asian Danielle Steel.

HUA Why do you want to speak to me?

SONJA I am not sure–

Hua studies Sonja for a moment.

HUA You want to write a book about me!


HUA Admit it!

I see through your ruse–

SONJA I’m sure it’s a great idea–

HUA It’s a wonderful idea.

A book.

About me.

High time!

SONJA I didn’t say–

HUA A book about my career.

My influence on theater and artists.

My success, my fans, my life.


I think

I make a very interesting subject.

Sonja thinks hard.


HUA What title are you giving my book?

SONJA I don’t–

HUA How about–

Hua Wai Mun: The Legend, The Star, The Man?

SONJA It is a good idea–

HUA Fiction or fact?

SONJA I’m not sure yet.

HUA Fact!

Will there be photographs?

I have tons.

Hua rummages through his dressing table drawer.

SONJA I can start by asking some questions–

Hua fishes out a photograph and hands it to Sonja.

HUA Here.

SONJA I recognize this–

HUA This is a picture of me–


HUA In the early days.

Me in Russia.

With Bertolt Brecht.


HUA I’m the one in the dress.

SONJA Pretty.

HUA Come back tomorrow.


HUA It’s late.


I have to learn some lines

for tomorrow’s performance.

SONJA A new opera?

HUA You could say that.

Hua takes out a little red book.

hua (Smiles) Chairman Mao’s teachings.


On stage.

Hua kneels in front of Ling. Ling sits facing him.

LING Confess!

HUA I have nothing to confess.

LING Confess

you use your little romantic operas

to subvert and pollute the masses.

HUA You give me

far too much credit, Comrade Ling.

LING You are not my comrade.

You are a class enemy–

Hua takes out the little red book and opens to a specific page. Hua shows the page to Ling.

HUA Comrade Ling,

didn’t our great leader Chairman Mao

teach us:

“Lay out the facts

and speak with reason?”

I have only spoken the truth.

Ling grabs the little red book from Hua.

LING The great word of our leader

has nothing to do

with the likes of you.

HUA Set up an investigation.

Check all the facts I’ve told you.

You will see that I’m not guilty.

LING Comrade Hua,

do you know of a man who

works under your employ?

Tall and wiry

with the same annoying high-pitched

effeminate voice like yours?

Stage Manager Kong?

HUA Yes.

LING Before the crowds and the tribunal yesterday,

Stage Manager Kong,

he delivered a most damaging testimony

against you–

HUA Fabrication!

It was false testimony–

you and your lackeys coerced him–

LING Stage Manger Kong’s testimony states

and I quote–

“he uses his art

as a weapon

for counterrevolutionary propaganda

to sway the masses

to his perverse thinking.”

HUA His vocabulary is not large enough

to say what you have parroted.

Stage Manager Kong could never say–

LING “He puts on female clothing.

Struts on stage.

Thinks he is a grand old lady.”

HUA I play woman warriors.

Not old ladies.

And I don’t strut.

Ling spits at Hua. Ling walks away from him and starts burning books and papers in a metal bin.

HUA Actually, Comrade Ling,

I’m truly surprised

to hear your resentment

toward theater artists.

Hua wipes off the spit on his face.

HUA Surely

you knew our great leader Chairman Mao

deployed me to the countryside

to spread his word,

his teachings?

LING What word,

what teachings?


Why would Chairman Mao do such a thing?

HUA Who do you think

sang operas

to the tired hungry disenchanted

farmers and peasants

in the early days of Communism?

Who do you think

opened their eyes

to the oppression they suffered

under the evil nationalists

and imperialists?


We artists.

That’s who.

I was the Chairman’s messenger.

And yes,

dressed in a brocade gown!

LING Lies!

HUA We artists

are the true foot soldiers

of the motherland!

LING Rubbish!

HUA You don’t even know that,

do you?

You and your Red Guards

don’t even know your history!

How can you

expect to make history

without learning it,

without understanding it?


you reinvent your history.

Wipe the slate clean.

Anything you don’t want to learn,

into the fire.

Anything that makes you uncomfortable,

into the fire.

With your so-called Cultural Revolution,

you and your arrogant Red Guards

overthrew our schools,

expelled our teachers.

Ransacked our country

of our art,

our literature.


everything that was of value,

of worth.


everything that made our country great.

Anything and everything,

into the fire.

Ling deliberately grabs an opera costume and aims to throw it into the bin. Hua gets up from his knees and rushes to Ling. Hua wrestles the costume out of Ling’s hands. Ling doesn’t look at Hua. Ling holds out her hands.

Long silence.

Hua unwillingly puts the costume into Ling’s hands. Ling forces Hua onto his knees.

HUA Do you know what

what you are holding in your hands?

Do you know what you are burning,

little girl?

That is worth more

than your life.

Ling throws the costume into the bin.

LING We have to march forward!–

HUA Thousands of years from now,

when our country is nothing

but a distant memory,

all that truly remains

will be our paintings,

our poetry,


our plays and operas,

songs and lullabys.

A wealthy legacy of our accomplishments.

But with your short-sighted


you destroy them

without a thought.

It’s you.

That need to be held responsible.

That need to be hanged.

For the ruthless

and senseless murder

of our civilization!

Ling applauds.

LING Bravo.

A wonderful performance.

Ling produces a photograph. Ling throws it to Hua.

LING What do you have to say

about this?

Hua picks up the photograph.

HUA It’s–

a photograph–

LING Of you.

In a dress–

HUA It was after a performance.

I was in costume.

The White-Haired Damsel–

LING In a dress.

Singing and dancing,

like a trained monkey,

in front of western imperialists.

Have you no face?

HUA I was representing China.

It was a state-sanctioned tour.


I was in Russia

and they were–

LING Sergei Eisenstein.

Bertolt Brecht.

Important influential foreigners.

And behind them,


Russian politicians.

HUA What are you implying?–

LING Espionage.

Passing state secrets

to the Russians.

HUA That is not true–

Ling takes the photograph from Hua and replaces it with the little red book. Ling returns to her chair and sits.

LING Before I leave you,

dear Comrade Hua,

please turn to page six

of our leader’s little red book.

I believe

you will find his policy

quite useful.

“Lenient treatment

for those who confess,

and severe punishment

for those who remain stubborn.”

Think carefully

about which category

you wish

to belong.

Hua looks at the little red book. Ling looks at the photograph.


Back stage.

Sonja stands at the edge of the deck.

From the previous scene, Ling walks to the metal bin with the photograph. Ling studies the photograph.

Ling notices Sonja.

LING So you are writing a book

about Comrade Hua.


LING How many people

do you think

will read this book?

SONJA My last book sold

five million copies–

Ling walks towards Sonja.

LING Don’t you want to interview me?

Holds out her hand.

I think I can provide–

Sonja doesn’t take Ling’s hand.

SONJA Not particularly.

LING I think I can supply the–

SONJA What part of “no,” don’t you understand?

Ling puts her hand down, walks away and secretly pockets the photograph.

LING Well,

you’ll have a long wait

for Comrade Hua then.

Ling starts to tear and burn papers and books.

SONJA What have you done to Master Hua?

LING We’ve placed Comrade Hua

in solitary confinement

for two weeks until he regains his senses

and confesses his–

ling and SONJA Crimes against the people.

LING Well,

so you know.

Ling eyes Sonja suspiciously. Sonja studies Ling curiously.

SONJA I presume

you have some books to burn.

LING I’ll be watching you.



Ling exits.


Back stage.

Hua and Sonja laughing.

SONJA And you told the Red Guard,

under interrogation–

HUA Yes–

SONJA About the evils

of the Cultural Revolution.

You said–

wait, I remember–

you said

“It’s you

that need to be hanged–”

sonja and HUA “For the ruthless

and senseless murder

of our civilization!”

SONJA It was brilliant.

Absolutely brilliant.

HUA I thought so too.

SONJA You know,

I’ve always been interested

in your life, your work.

HUA So the Americans have also heard of me.

SONJA Well, no.

I scoured the libraries

the Internet,


Dug into a slew of magazines

journals, books,


Only a couple of brief mentions,

odd footnotes.

Here and there.

About you.

In the early days.

HUA You Americans

have always been wanting in culture.

SONJA But I remember

a story

about how you made Mao Zedong cry

in one of your performances.

What a wonderful anecdote

to tell your children.

HUA It’s so long ago.

A minor incident.

SONJA How can you forget

such a moment?

HUA I cannot remember the details.

Sonja puts the tape recorder in front of Hua.

HUA It was the

Festival of the Hungry Ghosts.

The ninth month.

Many years ago–

SONJA I thought

it was the Ching Ming Festival

in the–

I remember I–

HUA It was the

Festival of the Hungry Ghosts

SONJA No, no.

I’m sure of it–

Ching Ming–

HUA Is this my moment?

Or yours?


SONJA Yours.


Ling observes Sonja and Hua’s interaction at a corner of the stage without being noticed.

HUA Well then,

it was the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts.

The ninth month.

Many years ago.


A night like any other.

I was putting on my makeup for the show.

Then Stage Manager Kong

frantically burst

into my dressing room,


“Chairman Mao is in the audience!”

Chairman Mao in the audience.

I couldn’t care less

if the Queen of Sheba

was sitting in the front row.

I was working!

I decided not to fuss.

After all,

he was coming to see me.

Not vice versa.

I calmly applied my makeup.

Prepared for the show.

Concentrated on the performance.

Sipped my hot tea.

Like I always did.



at the last minute,

I simply couldn’t resist

the aching temptation

to see this man who had taken

all of China by storm.


when no one was looking

I quickly tiptoed

to the side wings,

scurried behind the painted scenery,

and desperately tried

to catch a glimpse of him.

I couldn’t find him.

Where was he?





there he was.

In a sea of noisy farmers,

peasants, and workers.

Chairman Mao,

sitting there,

in my theater,

with his bodyguards.

eating steamed pork dumplings.

What a sight!

SONJA Were you disappointed?

I was excited meeting Oprah Winfrey–

HUA But I was in the presence of greatness!

Chairman Mao turned China around.

Unified a fractured nation.

Things were improving.

And this legend,

this god,

was in the audience,

watching my work,

watching me.

SONJA And how did he react?

Ling enters and tells Sonja the story. Hua does not look at Ling. Two realities are happening in this scene.

LING Chairman Mao

he broke into tears–

HUA Bawling.

Like a baby.

I do have

that kind of effect

over people–

SONJA A true moment.

The White Haired Damsel opera,

wasn’t it?–

HUA Yes–

LING I was only twelve years old then.

I slipped away

from the house

and ran to the theater

in the center of town.

Once there,

I pierced through the rowdy crowds,

and found myself

an empty seat.

I sat there,

with sticky sesame candy

and hot tea in my hands,

watching the opera.

but I never ate.

I couldn’t.

I just sat there.


Through his delicate song,

I was lifted.


All I heard was this longing.

This terrible,

aching longing.

About how the White-Haired Damsel

missed her home.

Before I knew it,

I had tears.


streaking down my cheeks.

Hua begins to act out the opera.

HUA When we got to the part

where I was being raped

by the evil landlord,

Chairman Mao frantically shouted–

hua and LING “We’ve got to have the revolution!” –

LING But the grand actor–

HUA I continued singing–

LING Seamlessly!

Ignoring the Chairman’s ranting.

As if he didn’t exist–

HUA The bodyguards tried to calm Chairman Mao,

but he brushed them away.


he struggled to his feet.

Shouting for help

in rescuing me!–

Hua and Ling laugh.

LING As always,

his bodyguards had unbuckled his belt.

You see,

the Chairman had a big belly,

and that made it more comfortable for him

to sit through the performance–

HUA And when he stood up–

LING His pants

dropped to the floor!

HUA But the Chairman.

He just stood.

Facing me.

Tears flowed from his wet eyes.

He was hardly conscious

of what was going on.

When the opera was finished,

he rushed to the stage

to congratulate me.

(Reaches out with his hand as if to shake hands)

Holding his pants with one hand.

And the other.

Fiercely clutching my hand.

Shaking it.

SONJA Did Chairman Mao say anything to you?

Hua looks at his hand.

HUA Yes.

He said–

we were

his messengers.

We were

the party’s foot soldiers.

And that

he was proud of us.

LING Then Chairman Mao smiled.

And disappeared into

the shouting cheering crowds.

HUA That was a moment.

My moment–

LING A moment I’ll never forget.


SONJA Then in 1966–

HUA That’s enough for today–

SONJA In 1966–

LING The Cultural Revolution–

HUA That’s enough–

LING The Chairman,

at the bidding of his wife,

Jiang Qing,

had all of China’s art

literature music plays operas


HUA I said

that’s enough for today–

LING The cultural legacy

of thousands and thousands of years.

Torn into pieces.

Thrown into flames.

SONJA And what happened then?

HUA I never sang again.


On stage.

Ling stands on a chair. She dances and sings the White-Haired Damsel aria. Holding his training stick, Hua listens with his head hung low and his eyes closed.

Both Hua and Ling are exhausted and testy.

HUA Sing–

LING Again?–

HUA Again–

LING I can’t–

HUA Again,


LING Please–

HUA You can.


LING I’m tired.


HUA Where are you?–

LING In the mountains–

HUA Ah yes,

the mountains.

Can you smell

the crisp mountain air?


the cool shadow of trees?

Can you hear

the gentle rustling of leaves

as the wind rushes

between the branches?


Hua lifts his arms up, demonstrating hand movements.

HUA Ling,

lift your hands up.


Like this.


Ling lifts her arms up, imitating Hua’s movements.

LING My arms.

They feel heavy–

HUA And remember,

who are you?–

LING The White-Haired Damsel–

HUA A servant girl–

LING A servant girl–

HUA You were brutally raped

by the evil landlord–

LING Raped by the evil landlord–

HUA You fled

to the faraway mountains–

LING Faraway mountains–

HUA And you just bore

his illegitimate child–

LING I know just how she feels.

HUA Again.

From the top.

LING Can we take a rest?

HUA We will take a rest

once you get it right.

Hua slams his stick onto the flow. Ling sings and dances.


Not like that.

Hua adjusts her arm and leg movements with his stick.

HUA You have bad posture.

It’s not ladylike.

LING You would know.

HUA Yes, I would.

Everything you see

in my work

is earned.

Not given.

The point is

your femininity

must be earned.

LING I think I would know what femininity is.

HUA Then you have much more to learn.

Hua slams his stick onto the floor. Ling gets down on the chair and dances around the stage. Hua sits. He looks at Ling’s dancing.


Look at you!

You walk like a duck!

Why do you think

men have undertaken

and mastered women’s parts

in Chinese theater

for generations?

HUA It’s because–

Ling rolls her eyes and mocks Hua while she dances.

hua AND LING We know

how women are to behave.

How they are to move.

To talk.

To grace the earth.

Femininity is created for men and by men. Femininity is an art.


you have the opportunity to claim

what is rightfully yours

on stage,

you shirk.




Lift your hands.



Ling stops what she’s doing and sits on the floor in exhausted defiance.

LING I can’t anymore.

Hua turns away from her, and leaves.

HUA Then give up!

Throw it all away!

And I thought you wanted to be an actor.

An artist.

LING I do,


Hua abruptly exits. Ling slowly gets up from the floor.

Ling looks at the departing Hua.


LING From the top?

Hua stops in his tracks.

HUA From the top.

And put some heart into it.



HUA Sing.




To the gods.

Ling dances and sings an aria.

Hua closes his eyes and listens.


On stage.

Ling is standing center stage. She is holding a wooden pole.

Sonja is frozen in fear.

LING Bring out the feudalist pig!

Suddenly, stagehands on all sides of the stage start to rumble their chairs, creating a frightening cacophony.

A stagehand with his head wrapped in a gunny sack is hauled onstage by another stagehand.

Ling looks him apprehensively. Then she pushes him onto the floor. The stagehand lies in a pool of light.

LING Confess!




Ling kicks the stagehand. The more she kicks, the harder her kick becomes. Every time Ling kicks the stagehand, the other stagehands rumbling the chairs slam their chairs on the floor to suggest the violent kicks.

LING Confess!




Ling stops. She looks up at the balcony and nods. Ling grabs a pole and raises it to strike the stagehand.

LING Confess!


Back stage.

Sonja is smoking.

From the previous scene, an exhausted Ling enters with a wooden pole.

Mischievously, Ling slams her pole on the desk, making Sonja jump.

SONJA There you are.

So you were once Master Hua’s student–

LING I thought

you didn’t want to interview me

You said–

SONJA I need to speak with you.

Your point of view–


SONJA It would be important,


if I am writing the book–

LING What part of “no,”

don’t you understand, Sonja?

SONJA From what my two eyes have witnessed,

Comrade Ling,

you are not going to be

quite a pretty picture in my book.

LING What do you mean?

I did all the right–

SONJA The cruel interrogations,

the burning of books,

the beating of political prisoners,

the dreadful dancing–

Shall I go on?

Don’t you want to clear the air?

Set the record straight?


SONJA Have a seat.

Ling sits down.

SONJA Cigarette?

Ling is obviously uncomfortable with the cigarette smoke.

LING Will you be smoking

throughout this–?


It’s a bad habit.

But I say,

why fight it?

Especially when it’s larger than you are.

It’s better to yield,

to succumb.

(Takes out her tape recorder)

Isn’t that why you became a revolutionary?

LING I thought

we were here to talk about

my apprenticeship

with Master Hua.

SONJA You know,

come to think of it,

you resemble the heroine

in my last novel.

You are exactly how I pictured her:


Not too bright.

Heart of steel.

Cute bangs.


Whiny voice.

Bit on the grumpy side.

Dies at the end of the story.

Come to think of it,

all of my female characters

look like you.

ling (Sarcastically) Really?

SONJA Have you read it?

It’s called Bound Feet, Bound Lives?

LING Vivid title–

SONJA My protagonist:

About your age.

A plain Chinese village girl.

Bound feet.


to a loveless arranged marriage

to a ruthless Communist cadre leader,

old enough

to be her grandfather.

Relationship’s not meant to be.

In the end,

as always,

suicide for her.

LING Tragic.

SONJA But not a downer.

It’s got real funny moments.

Uplifting in parts.

You should check it out.

It’s a must read.

LING Arranged marriages and bound feet

are a thing of the past.

What you just described

are counterrevolutionary ideas–

Sonja blows cigarette smoke in Ling’s face. Ling storms off.


you were once Master Hua’s student.

Ling stops.


SONJA Why did you want to be in Beijing opera?


LING Well,

I’ve always wanted to be an actor,

an opera star–

SONJA Really?

I couldn’t tell.

LING Ever since I saw the master on stage.

From young,

I knew that it was fruitless.

Women were not allowed to be in the opera.

Parts were assigned to boys and men.

Even roles that called specifically for women.

But one day,

I plucked up my courage

and persuaded him,

one of the greatest Beijing opera stars,

to let me study under him.

Hua enters, not looking at Ling but at his script.

Ling runs around Hua while speaking to Sonja.

HUA No women are allowed in the profession.

Go away.

LING I would walk with him

as he made his way to the theater

every evening.

HUA Why do you want to do this?

You should get married.

Go home.


I’d wait for his show to finish

and walk him back home.


asking him.


and again.

HUA Try embroidery.

I know just the person who can teach you.

How about calligraphy?

LING Hounded him daily.

On the streets.

HUA Pottery?

LING At home.

HUA Poetry?

LING At the theater.

HUA Cooking?

LING In the teahouse.

I was relentless.

HUA You are relentless!

If you like the theater so much,

have a taste of it.

Hua dances.

LING I was so happy!

Every day

I arrived at the theater early.

Cleaned his makeup table.

Hand washed his costumes.

Lit his cigarettes.

Brewed his favorite tea.

Watched him from the wings

as he leapt into the air,

fought with demons and spirits,

romanced famous generals

and rural peasants

with song and dance.

Watched him die.

Again and again.

It was heaven.

HUA If you want to learn,

just shut up and watch me.

Watch me.


LING He was so beautiful.

He made me forget.

Where I am.

Who I am.

HUA Are you watching?

To Hua.



HUA Good.

To Sonja.


I wanted to do more than watch.

I wanted to get up on stage.

Feel the caress of creaky floorboards

with my dancing feet.

Feel the heat of lights on my face,

my body.

I wanted to sing,

loud and strong,

thundering through the theater.

Hear the cascading shouts,


as I take my bows

on stage.

People calling my name,

throwing flowers


I kept begging him,

tried all kinds of ruses

to get him

to say “yes.”

(To Hua)

You were so magnificent

when you sang to the Imperial Court

about injustice.

I was so moved.


(Points to her cheeks)



hua (Grunts) Hmm!

LING You know I’m ready!

I’ve done this stupid apprenticeship

for more than a year!

I’m sick of it!

I’m not your little servant girl,

Picking up after your royal highness!

You’re just too pigheaded to see I’m ready!–

HUA Hmm!

LING I love the theater.

I can’t wait to get here every day.

Watching you work.

Learning from you.

I’m so lucky just to be here.

I just love–

HUA Hmm!

LING I tried everything.





But the stubborn old fool wouldn’t listen.

HUA All right, all right!

Stop your whining and conniving little tricks.

Come here,

every day,

four hours before the show.

I’ll train you.

LING And we trained,

for four years,

on a bare stage,

and no one in the company knew.

He was my mentor.

When I saw him on stage,

I knew I wanted to be

just like him.

SONJA And did you?

Become like him?



And better.


Back stage.

SONJA So you took on a female prot”g” –

A teenager–

HUA Yes–

I remember when I was in New York–

SONJA Her name was Ling.

This was in 1962.

Despite the strict traditions

imposed by your Chinese opera troupe–

HUA Yes–yes–

New York–Broadway–

I saw a play–

SONJA You defied strict traditions.

You started training women

to take on roles–

HUA Enough–

SONJA I have only a few more questions.

In 1962–

HUA I said enough–

SONJA Just one more then.

In 1962 you–

HUA That’s enough for today, Sonja.

I’m actually tired of hearing myself

talk for once.


SONJA Then I should go.

Let you get some–

HUA Stay.

(Gestures for Sonja to sit)



Tell me about yourself, Sonja.

SONJA What do you want to know?

HUA Everything.


SONJA I’m afraid there’s not much to tell.

HUA Everyone has a story.

SONJA I really don’t have one.

HUA You come

from a country of reinvention,

you are an author

and you can’t come up–

SONJA Why are you prying–

HUA I would like

to get to know you better, Sonja.

SONJA My books–

HUA Beyond your books, Sonja,

who is this woman before me?

SONJA I work a lot.

Travel and–

It’s been a very busy few years–

You know,

I’m not sure.

HUA Perhaps that’s why you write.

SONJA Perhaps.

HUA What about your family?

Are they–?

SONJA I have–none.

HUA Friends?

SONJA A few here and there.

HUA You must be very lonely.

SONJA I don’t have time

to be lonely.

HUA Any hobbies?



I have dabbled in Chinese opera.

HUA You and Chinese opera?

Tell me.

SONJA When I was young–

HUA Many, many years ago–


Many, many years ago.

I left Hong Kong for America–

HUA But I thought you were American–

SONJA I am, now.

I entered the country illegally.

On an oil tanker.

Through some connections,

I worked as a waitress.

Can you believe it?


A waitress.

HUA Yes, I can.

SONJA On my free evenings,

rare and few,

I got to do some acting

in Chinese street theater.

HUA I think that’s wonderful.

You in the theater.

SONJA But I soon left.

HUA Why?

SONJA I found Chinese opera

to be a dying art in America.

Worse still,

the audiences were paltry.


they were the silver-haired old folks

who came in small but dedicated droves.

The young ones didn’t come.

Instead they stayed home,

watched TV,

went to the movies.

They said

the operas didn’t mean anything to them.

Their lives were reflected

more clearly in sitcoms.

I didn’t see the point.

Performing night after night.

To a small handful of audiences.

It wasn’t worth it.

HUA “Wasn’t worth it?”

There’s a reason

why Chinese opera has endured for centuries!

It’s an art.

An elevated art–

SONJA I know,

but no one came–

HUA Stories and histories.

It speaks to the hearts of people–

SONJA No one came–

HUA And everyone in the theater–

SONJA No one came–

HUA Dedicates their lives to the opera.

How can it die?

How can anyone not come–?

SONJA No one came.

No one.


SONJA After a while,

the old audiences died off

and there weren’t enough audiences

to warrant the opera’s existence.

The city council stopped funding it.

The benevolent societies

didn’t have enough money.


all the costumes, props, and sets

were stored away

in nondescript warehouses

in the Bowery.


dirt soon carpeted the silks and sequins.


Chinese street opera became extinct.

HUA Chinese opera.


I can’t believe it.

SONJA I know.


HUA I’ve been–

I’m sorry–

Please tell me more about yourself.


came the grand detour.

With nothing to do in the evenings,

I enrolled in a few English classes

at the local community college.


my English as a Second Language instructor,

forty-something Bob Pickford

assigned us

to write short stories–

HUA Pickford.

SONJA My first ex-husband.

HUA First?


of many–

HUA I don’t think we have the time.

SONJA Bob was most intrigued,

most fascinated,

by my experiences,

my perceptions of Asia.

He often encouraged me,

persuaded me to write

about my time there.

At first

I didn’t know where to start.

I stared

at a blank piece of paper

for the longest time.


as if by magic,

my yellow Bic pen inked the first word.

Words bled into sentences,

sentences melded into paragraphs,

paragraphs into a story.

Stories about–

HUA Home.


When I turned them in,

Bob simply went crazy over them.

He sent them

around to magazines,


short story contests,

publishing houses.

The stories eventually got published.

Got serious attention.

The next thing I know,

Random House approached me

and they were published

in a book.

HUA Then success!

SONJA Then divorce.

HUA You became rich and famous–

SONJA Sold millions of copies.

Six months

on the New York Times Best-Sellers List–

HUA We should learn from you.

Be commercial–

SONJA The Oprah Winfrey Show,

Talk show circuits,

the People magazine cover story–

HUA Opening night galas,




HUA Yes–

SONJA They were the best days of my life.


HUA I remember all that, too.


So you made it.

SONJA I did well.

Very well.

HUA Then

you are an artist.


HUA Aren’t you?

In China,

after a lifetime of ridicule and

disrespect, you know you’ve made it

when they throw you a banquet

serving roast pig

when you’re dead.

Hua and Sonja laugh.

Hua starts to dance.

HUA Come

join me.

SONJA I can’t presume to–

HUA Come.

Sonja joins Hua and they dance together beautifully.


you know this dance.

SONJA I guess.

HUA You see,

your years in Chinese opera,

they are not at all wasted.

Sonja and Hua continue dancing.


Back stage.

Ling is singing the White-Haired Damsel aria offstage.

Hua is peeking through the curtain, nodding and smiling in approval of Ling’s performance.

Sound of thunderous applause.

Hua quickly runs away from the curtain and looks at the floor.

In costume, Ling walks in wearing Hua’s White-Haired Damsel costume that we’ve seen in earlier scenes.

LING Are you feeling much better?

HUA Look.

The floor.

It’s dirty–

LING Your diarrhea–

HUA All gone.

All gone.

LING Really.

So fast?

HUA The miracle of Eastern medicine.

LING I don’t believe you.

HUA Is it my stomach or yours?

LING I see.

HUA “I see. I see.”

If you see so much,

why is the floor still so filthy?

Ling changes out of her costume.

HUA Where are my cigarettes?

LING There.

In your dressing table drawer.

Top left.

HUA One night I’m not here,

and you’ve completely taken to

rearranging my dressing table.

You must be anxious to have me

in a permanent state of diarrhea.

LING You should stop smoking so much.

HUA I smoke what I want,

when I want.

LING You must be feeling much better.

HUA Of course I’m better.

Leave me alone.

LING You should have gone on then.

HUA Yes.

Maybe I should have.



did you see?

HUA See what?

LING What I did.

HUA Out there?

LING On stage.



HUA You walk like a man.

Speak like a man.

Sing like a man.

What’s wrong with you?


HUA Don’t “ah” me.

Everything I taught you.

All in the toilet.

What did I tell you?

Time and time again?

It’s got to be what?


HUA Yes.

It’s got to be big, big, big.

Did I see “big?”

No, I didn’t see “big.”

What’s wrong with you?


LING Did you know the audiences thought

I was you

out there?

HUA Not in a million years.

LING They kept calling me.

By your name.

HUA They are blind.

LING They kept applauding.


I must have done something right.

HUA You mustn’t let the audiences

determine the quality of your work.


I don’t think

they even know what they are watching.


ling (Smiling) So you liked it?

HUA Liked what?

LING Stop teasing me.

Did you like it,

what I did?


LING You liked it–

HUA I said no–

LING You liked it–

HUA You’ll never be good enough.

Where’s my tea?


Back stage.

From the previous scene, Ling rehearses her dance on stage.

hua (Yelling to Ling) Don’t think

I cannot see you!

Faster faster faster!

What’s the matter with you?

SONJA Aren’t you a little too hard on her?

HUA She’s not good enough.

(To Ling)


SONJA I think she’s pretty good.

And she tries very hard.


Isn’t that beautiful?

Hua studies Ling for a moment.


Hua looks away and packs his things.

SONJA You’re leaving?

HUA It’s late.

SONJA What about Ling?

HUA Ling will be absolutely fine.

She’s done this before.

SONJA Aren’t you going to accompany her home?

It’s nearly midnight.

HUA She can sleep back stage

if it gets too late.

There’s a cot here.


she has much to learn,

much to rehearse.

SONJA She must get lonely.

HUA She’ll survive.

It’ll toughen her up.

SONJA Where are you going?

HUA Why are you full of questions tonight?

SONJA Are you going home?


To Stage Manager Kong’s house.

SONJA Why do you spend so much time

with Stage Manager Kong?

You work with him.

Drink and eat.

Play mah-jonng and cards with him.

HUA Because he’s my friend.

SONJA Didn’t you have a wife?

HUA Yes,

I married her

to save her

from a life of poverty.

We were happy

until she died of–

You see, Sonja,

we all have our stories.

And like you,

there are some stories

we rather not hear

not revisit again,

for fear of pain,

for fear of regret.

SONJA I see.

HUA Good night, Sonja.

(Shouts to Ling)

I can’t hear you from here!



Hua exits as both Ling and Sonja look at him, the former with sadness, the latter with anger.


Back stage.

Ling is rehearsing a dance, while Hua is rehearsing the same dance on stage.

SONJA What are you doing?

LING Rehearsing.

SONJA Again?

LING Have to be good enough.


SONJA He’s always bossing you around.

Why don’t you tell him off?

LING Would you?

SONJA Not in a million years.

Both Sonja and Ling laugh.


LING I’ve been meaning to ask–


LING Since you are a successful and famous author–

artist to artist–

do you have any advice for me?

SONJA Surely, Master Hua–

LING He’s not forthcoming with his–

all I get from him are growls and criticisms.

I’ve been thinking about–writing.

SONJA Writing?


I have some ideas for a play.

SONJA What about acting?

LING There must be more to Chinese opera

than stodgy legends and fairy tales–

SONJA I see.


LING So what inspires you?

SONJA A lot of things.

LING What do you write about?

SONJA The Asian experience.

About who we are,

and how far we’ve come.

LING You mentioned Bound Feet, Bound Lives


LING What kind of book–

SONJA Romance.

LING You write to entertain, then?


but my novels are much more than that.

They are thinly disguised.

Crack the surface,

you will find my novels are also

about the Asian–

LING Are all your books about that?

That one genre?



but all my stories are different.

I change the location,

the time period.

It’s another variation on a theme.

And it’s another book.

Another best-seller.

Another movie-of-the-week–

LING You do your art for money then–

SONJA Listen,

you asked for advice.

I’m just telling you

the way it is.

I give my readers

a people, a culture,

a language, a country

they’ve vaguely heard of,

but will never experience firsthand.

Deposit them somewhere exotic,

say Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore.

And I’m their trusted tour guide,

holding their hands,

venturing deep

into the heartland of the Orient.

After they spend thirty dollars

and a couple of weeks

buried in my words,

they will have understood us a little better.

Understood how we suffered,

how we lived,

how we loved,

and how we cried.

LING So your readers believe what you write?

SONJA The funny thing is

I can give them Iowa

and they won’t know the difference.

You see,

I’m credible.

Look at my face.

My readers see I’m Asian.

One hundred percent.

The real McCoy.

If I say this is white,

it’s white.

If I say this is black,

it’s black.

And if I say

this is one hundred percent pure Chinese,

it is.

LING How can you not want them

to see us for who we are?

As artists, it’s our responsibility–

SONJA It’s not a question

of how we want them to see us.

It’s how they want to see us.


After my first book was published,

I was thrust into

an unexpected fire of success and accolades.

When it came time to write the second,

I decided to shine a harsh light

on the real faces of immigrant Asian America.

My life

in the red white and blue.

I filled my stories

with the daily plights,

triumphs, and hopes

of these shadow people.

It was my proudest work.

LING That’s wonderful.


no one flocked to buy the book.


copies of Shadow People

were found abandoned,


in a cemetery of unread books.

It was then I understood:

the buying public doesn’t want

to see us as flesh and blood.

They want to see us

bathed in glorious,

misty hues of magic and smoke.

They want stories of Fu Manchu,

barbaric gods

with twelve arms wielding sabers,

polygamist men

with their entourage of Chinese wives,

geisha girls, acrobats, Beijing opera–

LING You are exactly like

Master Hua and his fluffy operas!

SONJA What do you mean–?

LING You give them what they want–


and why not?

Do you think it’s only the white folks

who eat up what I have to say?

A large number of my readers are Asians.

Asians who have no idea

what their own histories are.

These Asian Americans are

never Asian enough,

never American enough.

Straddling two worlds

that have no place for them.

They hunger for a sense of home.

They crave my books.

And I never let them down.

I give them a sense of belonging.

I give them history.

LING You ply them with lies!

You invent their histories!

SONJA If you want authenticity,

there are always family stories and secrets

told over the dinner table.

Bizarre Oriental customs

from a hazy childhood–

LING Why are you so proud of this?–

You have a responsibility–

SONJA I have no responsibility.

Except to myself and to my craft.

I love what I do.

No apologies–

LING Everything you write,

says something about you

and about the world you see.

Everything you don’t,

does the same.

Everything has consequences–

SONJA What consequences?

I’m simply exercising

my freedom of expression.

Freedom of speech–

LING There’s no freedom in art.

Don’t you realize

how dangerous

your art

can be to your readers?

You have the power to change lives,

change minds–

SONJA And what is more dangerous?

Listening to the artist

or the government–?

LING All art is political–

SONJA Is that why the Red Guards

want to control art?

With their Cultural Revolution?

Because they are afraid

of the opposing point of view–

LING Because

they recognize the power of art.


in the wrong hands–

SONJA The artists’ hands–

LING What you create–

SONJA Beauty–

LING Decadence–

SONJA Humanity–

LING Filth–

SONJA Truth–

LING Lies–


LING We want art to have responsibilities–

SONJA Who’s we?–

LING The people–

SONJA The Red Guards?




LING You are a fraud.

SONJA The lesson of people living in glass houses.

LING I will never end up like you.

Ling storms out.


On stage.

An exhausted Hua stands on a chair, wearing a tall white dunce cap and a placard with Chinese characters around his neck.

Ling paces in the front of the house.

ling (Shouting) Again!

hua (Shouting) Without the People’s Army,

the people will have nothing!

LING Again!

HUA Without the People’s Army,

the people will have nothing!

LING Again!

HUA Without the People’s Army,

the people will have nothing!


Ling looks out into the balcony.

LING He’s gone.

HUA Are you sure?

LING Yes. I don’t see him in the theater.

HUA Where?

Ling indicating with her eyes.

LING Up there.

In the balcony.


He usually sits

by the aisle

in the back row.

HUA I see.

LING How are you?

HUA I’m fine.

LING What do you need?

HUA I need to sit.

Sit down.

LING I don’t think you should.

Just in case,

he comes back.

HUA You are right.

LING Water?

HUA Please.

Ling runs on stage and gives Hua a cup of water.

LING Here.

Drink it quickly.

Hua drinks quickly. Ling takes the cup away from him.

HUA How have you been, Ling?

LING I’m sorry.

HUA It’s all right.

LING I wish I could undo everything.

I would.

HUA I know.

LING You know I would never have done it.

I just didn’t know.

I didn’t.

HUA Shh.


I’ve been meaning to ask for many weeks.

Is it true?

LING What are you talking about?

HUA Stage Manager Kong.

About what happened to him.


LING It’s true.

Hua getting emotional.

HUA I thought it was–

A lie–

To make me–

To break me–

I thought–it was a lie.

LING They made me–

they said I had to prove I was one of them–

that I was worthy of being a Red Guard–

of being the chairman’s soldier.

Ling walks away from Hua and walks to the downstage area where she kicked and beat the stagehand in scene 10. The same pool of light appears. Ling looks at it and kneels speaking to it.

LING They brought Stage Manager Kong here

to the theater one night–

put him on stage–

put him in a circle where he–

there were eight of us–

HUA I don’t want to hear–

LING Put a filthy gunnysack over his head–

Pushed him around–

we had sticks–

we beat him–

HUA Stop–

LING Some others kicked him–

kicked him around like he was a football–

they made us call him names–

HUA Stop–

LING I kicked him!–

kicked him!–

Stage Manager Kong–

he didn’t even scream–

didn’t make a single noise–

then he stopped moving–

when I finally took the gunnysack off him–

HUA Stop–

LING I saw his bloody face–

HUA Stop!–

LING Couldn’t recognize him–

HUA Stop!–

LING His face was swollen–


with welts and cuts–

hua (Interrupting) Stop!


Ling slams her fists on the ground.


LING I can’t do this anymore.

I can’t–

HUA You have to–

LING I can’t stand it any longer–

Hua gets down from the chair and rushes over to Ling.

HUA You must save yourself–

LING Please–

don’t make me–

Hua tries to get Ling to stand up.

HUA You are my daughter,

are you not?


Aren’t you?



HUA Then behave like one.

Hua gets up and stands on the chair.

HUA Obey me.

Remember what I taught you.


HUA Yes.


You must.

For all our sakes.



HUA Are you eating properly?


HUA You look so thin.

Ling looks up into the house.

LING Papa, he’s back.


LING Again!

hua. (Shouting) Without the People’s Army,

the people will have nothing!

LING Again!

HUA Without the People’s Army,

the people will have nothing!

LING Again!

HUA Without the People’s Army,

the people will have nothing!


Back stage.

Hua putting on his makeup. Ling sits on the floor.

LING Sing it to me again, Papa.

HUA Later.

Let me finish putting on my makeup.

LING Papa, please.

HUA Papa has to play the White-Haired Damsel tonight.

LING Mama used to sing it to me.


HUA Mama is not here anymore.

LING I know.

She’s dead.

HUA Yes.

Aren’t you tired of hearing it?

LING Never.

Not if you sing it.

HUA How old are you, Ling?


HUA Ten years old!

Aren’t you old enough to sing by yourself?

LING But I want you to sing it, Papa.

HUA I have to get ready for the show–

LING Please?

Hua sings it quickly.

HUA “Gently, gently

She dances to her father’s voice

Gently, gently

In mei hua blossom night”

Hua looks at Ling. He stops applying his makeup.

HUA Come,

sing with me.

hua and LING “Gently, gently

Mei hua fades to winter white

Little girl child

She’s no longer in sight

Gently, gently

Mei hua flower blossoms sway

Gently, gently

Her father misses her face”

Hua resumes putting on his makeup.

LING I love you, Papa.


On stage.

LING He’s back.

I see him.

I don’t know if I can–

HUA Yes.

You can.

You’re an actress.

Let the scene begin.

Hua holds up a piece of paper.

LING What is this?

HUA My confession.

LING You have not confessed your crimes.

These pages are blank.

HUA I’ve nothing to confess.

I’ve done nothing wrong.

LING We have proof of your crimes against the people.

HUA Show me then.

This proof.

LING We have the photograph.

HUA You know

the photograph was insufficient evidence.

LING We will show you leniency if you confess.

HUA I’m not guilty!

LING You are guilty

of corrupting the people with your art.

A grown man dressed like a woman!

Singing like a woman!

HUA Illusion!–

LING We also have proof

of your perverted licentious relationship

with your subordinate Stage Manager Kong–

HUA There was nothing filthy about my relationship–

LING Perverts lusting after each other–

HUA We were friends!

Good friends!

ling (Whispering) Papa,

just write something down.





hua (Whispering) No.

I have done nothing wrong.

ling (Out) Arrogant old fool!

You think

you can fool the people with your lies!

HUA I will be vindicated by your investigations!

LING Make it easy on yourself and confess!


ling (Whispering) Please, Papa!

Stop acting!

Write something down.



there will be severe consequences.

hua (Whispering) No.

ling (Whispering) Papa,

this is serious!

hua (Whispering) So am I!

ling (Whispering) Papa,


Hua deliberately looks away from Ling and stares straight into the theater balcony.

hua (Out) I will be vindicated!

I have done nothing wrong!


Ling looks at Hua with a pained expression.

Ling exits and reenters with a gunnysack.


HUA What is this, Ling?

The stagehands rumble their chairs on the floor creating a frightening cacophony.

LING Shut up and put this over your head.



HUA It’s a gunnysack.

LING Put this over your head!

HUA I have done nothing wrong!


Hua looks at Ling for a moment. Ling looks away.

LING We will–

kick some sense into you.

Make you reconsider your actions.

You will confess.


You must stop this!

This cannot go–!

Hua turns to the theater balcony again.

HUA I have done nothing wrong.


Hua puts sack over his head and holds his head up high.

LING You will confess.

You will confess.

You will confess.

Ling hauls Hua to the same place where the stagehand in scene 10 was beaten. The same pool of light appears.

Sonja stands helplessly watching the two of them.

SONJA Ling, stop this!

Don’t do it!


LING Confess!




Ling lifts her pole into the air and just before it comes down onto Hua, all the stagehands slam their chairs on the floor in unison.


When everyone leaves the stage, the pool of light appears.


Back stage.

Sonja was standing where we found her in the last scene.

Sonja walks to pick up the crumpled piece of paper. She then walks to the pool of light and touches it. Sonja shakes her head.

SONJA Have to find another story–

this one is not–

it’s too–

Maybe I can write about something else.

I know.

I’ll pitch White-Haired Damsel

to the publisher instead.

Adapt it.

Finesse it into

something contemporary.

Something that could also be made

into a TV movie.

Sonja speaks into her tape recorder.

SONJA White-Haired Damsel.

White-Haired Damsel.

Ling enters dressed as the Communist Party–sanctioned White-Haired Damsel. She enacts the following monologue to the Communist opera music.

Sonja pitches the following story in a Hollywood style.


The protagonist is a village girl.


Cute bangs.


You get the picture.

She’s got this father who committed suicide

because he cannot pay his rent.


the relevance of rent control today.

Before he meets his maker or makers,


depending which Chinese religion

he kowtows to,

he sells the protagonist into slavery

to a landlord.



and guilty liberal white

target audience potential here.

The girl is then brutally raped

by the landlord.

Think Jodie Foster in The Accused.

When he is away,

maybe he’s out shopping for more slaves,

maidens, and what not,

our protagonist quickly escapes

into the wild mountains.

Very Sound of Music.

She then bears his child.

A tough broad.

Since she has no health care,

child care,

or cable,

she feeds on roots, rocks, and locusts,

whatever people living in mountains eat.

Her suffering and bad diet

make her hair turn ghostly white.

Clairol and Slim-Fast ad dollars here.

Our protagonist has no choice

but to live on the offerings

given to her by the villagers

who believe her a goddess.

Our story climaxes

with White-Haired Damsel

firing accusations against the landlord.

There’s a legal trial to avenge her.

The village rejoices

that “age-old feudal bonds today

are cut away!”

Kinda like

the ‘ding, dong, the witch is dead” sequence

with the Munchkins.




End of story.



that will be a tough sell,

even for TV.

Ling finishes her dance. She looks at Sonja.

LING So there you are.



here I am.


Back stage.

From the last scene, Sonja follows Ling to the dressing room.

Ling takes off her revolutionary opera makeup.

LING Our revolutionary opera

is an ugly mirror

that is held straight up

to your face

to reflect the needs and passions

of the people.

We must educate.



And if we don’t,

opera must be and should be obsolete–

SONJA Blah blah blah–

LING Are you taping all of this, Sonja?


you took over the theater.

Must be nice for you.

Ling grabs the tape recorder from Sonja and speaks into it.

ling (Proudly) I was the natural successor!

By an official directive,

I was made the new director

of the opera theater. I

am in charge of performances,

writing revolutionary plays,

training actors, and all matters

pertaining to this theater.

Is this tape recorder working?

sonja (Sarcastically) Congratulations.

LING I knew

you’d be impressed.

sonja (Surprised) And why’s that?

LING I’ve been studying you.



LING The way you walk and talk.

The way you dress.

Everything about you exudes

confidence and success.

You are a prime model of what women should

be, even though I’m not convinced

by your capitalist philosophies.

Where you come from

must encourage and empower you

to be a woman.

To be an equal.


there is no such thing as true equality.

Trust me.

Even where I come from.

LING Where I come from,

males are unreasonably prized.

If you are born female,

you’ll have the misfortune

of being drowned in a river.

Abandoned in some back wood.

No one wants daughters

because you inevitably lose them.

They prefer sons.

SONJA Does Master Hua feel the same way?

Toward you?

LING I think he would have

preferred to have a son.

Heir to his theater,

his art.

SONJA What did Mao say?

“Women hold up half the sky–”


SONJA And what did Confucius say?

‘men are different from women–”

LING “As the sky is different from the earth.”

What bullshit!

Before I joined the Red Guards,

I was relegated to

the monotony of household chores.

Banned from schools,

literature, and higher learning.

Whatever you do,

You’ll never be good enough.

You are judged for what you are,

and not who you are.

SONJA But you are good.

From what I see of your work.

LING Thank you.

You don’t have to say–


Sonja reaches and holds Ling’s hand.

SONJA I want to.

I mean it.


LING You know,

sometimes I say that to myself.

Tell myself I’m good.

Isn’t it stupid?

Tell myself I can do it.

A one-person cheer team,

that’s what I am.

You know I can’t get a good word

from his royal highness.

SONJA You don’t need his–

LING No, I don’t.




it would be–


you are right.

I don’t need it.


that’s why you joined the Red Guards

because you didn’t get Master Hua’s–


I joined the Red Guards

because I believed in

their ideology of equality.

SONJA But your destruction of books and art–

LING We have no choice but to burn them.

They glorify and support

the old and oppressive ways.

Which country in the world

can boast of a truer democracy

where its youth takes an active part

in leading a nation?


SONJA If the Red Guards demanded

the death of your father–

LING That’s absurd–

SONJA If they did–

LING For what reason?–

SONJA If Master Hua represented the “old and

oppressive ways’–


SONJA What would you do?


LING That will never happen.

Sonja takes out a cigarette.

LING May I have one?

SONJA Cigarette?

Ling nods. Sonja gives Ling a cigarette. Ling studies the way Sonja holds her cigarette and imitates her. Sonja lights her lighter. Ling reaches to light her cigarette.


Back stage.

Ling is reading from a piece of paper.

Hua sits, tapping his foot.

An extremely long silence.

Hua gets up and walks near Ling, looking at her.

Hua walks back to his chair and sits.


what did they say?

LING You cannot perform

The White-Haired Damsel


HUA Why?

LING It has been officially modified.

HUA Modified into what?

LING A ballet.

HUA A ballet?

The chairman’s wife.



Jiang Qing.

She also rewrote the story.

The White-Haired Damsel

cannot be raped by a landlord

if she’s to be a revolutionary.

The White-Haired Damsel

will now resist him successfully

and bear no child.

HUA At least

the cow has turned to writing.

Her acting was terrible.

I remember seeing her in that dreary–

LING You shouldn’t say such things aloud.

People may hear.

HUA What people?

LING People.

Just don’t.

HUA I knew I should have emigrated

when I had the–

LING The Chairman’s wife

has done away with all theater.


HUA All theater?


Except her model dramas.


HUA Model dramas?

What model dramas?

Ling reads from a paper.

LING Every action,

every word,

every bar of music

in the play

must dramatize the class struggle–

HUA Now,

she’s the state censor.

Maybe I spoke too soon,

she should have stuck to acting–

LING The hero of the play

must take the side of the proletariat

against the bourgeoisie–

HUA Oh god,

do I have to play peasant girls from now on?–

LING Also,

the hero must be fully integrated

into the masses

and boundlessly loyal to Chairman Mao–

HUA My beautiful embroidered gowns!

What am I do with them!–

LING All plays will be banned–

HUA All plays?

LING All plays

except for her five sanctioned model operas.

There will be severe consequences

for anyone

caught performing anything else–

HUA My dear,

there is a lesson in all of this.

If you fail miserably

as a second-rate actress,

take up politics.

You’ll find yourself

on yet a bigger stage.


LING Papa,

you have to learn the model dramas.


LING You are not still planning

to perform the old operas?–

HUA Till I die.

LING But the consequences–

HUA What will I do?

Tell me–

LING They will arrest you –

HUA Ling,

look at me.

What will I do?

What else can I do?–

LING Learn the model plays–

HUA They are not plays!

They are written for the Chairman’s wife.

Let her perform them!–

LING Papa!

Stop being stubborn!

Hua grabs Ling’s hands and brings them to his face.

HUA Look.


Look at my face.

Feel it.

Every line.

Every crack.

Every pore.

For more than fifty years,

the greasy face paint,

the powders

have long seeped into my skin.

They are a part of me.

And I will die

with the paint and powders

still swimming in my blood.

And you think I want to?

You think I love coming in here

every day and every night,

putting on costumes,

singing, dancing

in front of loud, obnoxious,

unappreciative audiences?

I was sold

to the opera school

at the age of six,

because your grandfather,

a poor day laborer,

did not have enough money

to feed his entire family.

Being the youngest of seven sons,

he knew I was the most expendable.

I can never forget what he said to me.

“Aren’t you a lucky one?

You’re going to be on stage.

You’re going to be an actor.”

He said all this without any emotion,

any tears,

any concern.

His legacy to me.

All the while,

he fiercely dug his rough chapped hands

into mine.

Dragging me into the city

with uneven footsteps.

His breath

stinking of cheap wine.

I wanted to tell him.

I didn’t want to be an actor.

I didn’t want to be on stage.

All I wanted was to be at home.

With him.

With mother.

But I didn’t.

My father

later deposited me

behind the large stone walls of the school. Then

he stumbled out of the gates,

too busy

counting the shiny bronze yuan

in his hands,

too busy

to say a final good-bye

to me.

Instead of watching him

bleed into the cold shadows

of cobbled streets outside,

I turned

toward the harsh embrace

of the school.

My new home.

The master

soon replaced my father.

A strict disciplinarian,

he trained me.




In the mornings,

together with a host of other children,

we sang

the whole canon of Chinese operas.

Sang them

at the top of our little lungs.

Trained our voices

to sing

like valiant warrior men.

To sing

like virtuous country maidens


holy goddesses from the neglectful heavens.

All this before I reached sixteen.

And on hot afternoons,

a punishing

gregarious routine of gymnastics.

We danced in formation,

in unison,

in rhythm,

in sync,

as one.

The master behind us,

beating time with his large walking stick,

rapping rapping rapping

on the concrete floor.

We leapt




up into the air,

down onto the ground,

creating a beautiful fantastical world

in front of our eyes

in our heads,

to escape

the cruel world:

a world

of children without childhoods,

children within

the suffocating four walls of the school.


we plied stones and sticks

to our bent arms and knobby legs.

Stretched them

until they hurt,

until we couldn’t feel them.

Straighten out

what nature didn’t.

And I hated every moment of it.

This hell.

This abomination.

Hated what my father did to me.

Selling me off to opera school.

Abandoning me.

But I learned.

To accept it.

And I learned to love it.


I’m too old

to learn anything else!

(Hua refers to the theater.)

This is my life.



This place.






I will die here.

Hua walks to exit.

LING The Red Guards asked me questions

about you


Hua stops in his tracks.

HUA What did you say?

LING Nothing.

Nothing much.

Hua continues to walk.

LING They asked me to join them.

Hua turns to Ling.

HUA Will you?

LING They talked about equality,

justice for the people,

food for the hungry and–

HUA Will you join them?

LING I don’t know.

HUA You can’t.

After my tea,

we’ll rehearse again.


Back stage.

Dressed in a Red Guard uniform, Ling is on stage. She is burning books and papers in a metal bin of fire.

In the other corner, Sonja and Hua look at Ling.

HUA First,

the Red Guards

denounced their parents,

their teachers.

Interrogated intellectuals,

imprisoned artists.

Beating them.

Killing them.


they are burning paintings,



The entire country has gone mad.


there are some books

I’d be happy to set fire to.

HUA Whose books?


Hua looks at Ling.

HUA Look.

Look at Ling.


there is some good

to the Cultural Revolution after all.

Ling has finally come to her senses

and given up her silly notions

of being an actor,

an artist.

I don’t know why she kept trying.

SONJA My god–

you were punishing her–

discouraging her from the opera–

HUA It’s too hard a life in the opera–

SONJA All the rehearsals–

HUA She should have been a teacher,

a politician–

SONJA All the time she was trying so hard–

HUA A museum curator,

a writer–

SONJA It was all an act–

HUA I only want the best for her!

Sonja stares at Hua.

SONJA You don’t want her on the stage.

The only person

you want to see on the stage is you.

And no one else.

HUA She would never had made it.

SONJA She took over the theatre.

She must have something–

HUA She didn’t have it in her.

Didn’t have the fire.


SONJA If you have to choose

between the theater and your daughter,

which would you choose?

HUA That’s easy.

SONJA Which?

HUA You mean you don’t know?


Ling stops burning things. She looks at a particular book with much interest.


how is my book coming along?

SONJA It’s not–

It’s coming along slowly–

HUA Why haven’t you completed it?

Are you slacking off?


Writer’s block?

SONJA All I have are

mere fragments–

jigsaw pieces

that don’t quite fit–

shards of stories

that don’t make sense–

Ling pockets the book into her uniform and leaves.

HUA Finish it.

I want the world to remember me.


Back stage.

Hua sits at the dressing table, reading a manuscript and smoking.

Ling enters and walks towards Hua. Ling takes his cigarette from him.

LING You can’t smoke here anymore.

HUA Since when?

LING Since we the people

confiscated this theatre.

Hua extinguishes his cigarette unwillingly.

HUA Ling,

come with me.

LING I’m not listening to you, Comrade Hua.

And no matter you say,

I’m going on.


you are not.

Come home with me.

At once.

LING Try stopping me.

HUA You are not doing that trash.

LING I wrote that “trash.”

HUA You didn’t write the opera.

Chekhov did.

LING It is an adaptation.

My interpretation of Uncle Vanya.

Set in revolutionary China–

HUA It’s a stupid opera–

LING It’s a revolutionary opera.

It’s a good opera.

A necessary opera.

HUA I didn’t waste my precious time

training you

to do trash.

LING So I’m trained

for the sole benefit

of doing your kind of trash.

HUA What do you mean by that?

LING Your opera is fluff!

Silly legends

about romance and unrequited love.

Insipid stories

about social degenerates

like concubines and courtesans.

Women taking their lives

for meaningless relationships

and insincere men.

They degrade women.

Of course,

why shouldn’t they?

They were written

and performed by men.

Like yourself!

HUA And what’s wrong with that?

LING When the audiences leave the theater,

they think

your opera is the way of the world.

HUA That’s not my responsibility–

LING But you see,

it is.

HUA At least,

my theater doesn’t force everyone in the city

to come to the revolutionary opera

they don’t give a shit about–

LING Stage Manager Kong!


Come throw this rambling old fart out!


Hua and Ling look offstage.

Hua smiles.

HUA Despite your taking over the theater,

Kong still knows his loyalties LING I would be very careful

not to flaunt that information

if I were you, Comrade Hua.

You and Comrade Kong could be–

HUA What do you mean–

LING People may hear–

HUA You wouldn’t dare!

In all these years,

he’s been like a father to you–

LING More than you’d ever be.


You are distracting me.

I have to prepare for the show.

HUA Ling,

come home with me now.

And I’ll forget everything.

LING Why can’t you be happy for me, Papa?


I have finally found

something to believe in.

A purpose, a reason

to wake up to each and every morning.


with millions of shiny-faced youths,

I am changing

our antiquated attitudes of thinking,

our old ways of living,

forging a new country with ideals and hope.


I’m in an opera,

in the lead part?


I wrote the opera.

Why is it so difficult?

You keep putting me down,

saying I’m no good,

I’m not ready,

I’m good for nothing.

But I’m good, Papa.

Really good.

In my own right.

On my own terms.

I’m good.

HUA They promised you the theater

if you joined the Red Guards,

didn’t they?

If you kept an eye on me,

if you informed on me.

LING I saved your skin, Papa.

You would’ve been killed

if someone else kept an eye on you.

HUA No, no.

It’s more that.

You want the theater.

My theater.

LING Not everything is about the theater.

Please leave.

HUA You sold out.

LING I would like you to leave now.


You think you’re an actor?

An artist?

You’re not.

You’re not even halfway there.

You’re useless!

You’re nothing!


The door over there?

Use it!

HUA Don’t tell me what to do!

LING Leave!

HUA This is still my theater!

LING Not anymore!


HUA You joined the Red Guards

because you wanted my theater.

And nothing else.


LING The government

has taken over this establishment.

This is now

the People’s theater

and we’re doing plays

for the people.

And not plays

to indulge the fantasies

and whims of deluded actors.

You are a thing of the past.

Hua slaps Ling across the face.


HUA Ling, I’m–

Hua tries to reach out to Ling, but she violently shrugs off his touch.

LING You are in my way.

I have an entrance to make.

Ling exits, leaving Hua behind.

Music transition.

During the transition, Ling grabs a stick and Hua puts a gunnysack over his head. This is reminiscent of the last scene in act 1.

Sonja tries to physically stop Ling and Hua but they ignore her.


Ling, not–!

Please stop this–!


Not again–





On stage.

Hua is lying on the floor in a pool of light.

Ling takes the sack off Hua’s head.

Sonja watches from back stage.

HUA Tea–

LING Papa.

HUA I want some tea–


my throat–

LING Papa,

I can’t get any tea for you.

It’s not possible.

HUA Hmm.

LING Papa,

are you?–


think they broke–


LING They gave me a few minutes with you.

Hua groans.

HUA Ahh–

LING Pain there?


all over.


LING Papa,

you should have emigrated

when you had the chance.

To Europe.

To America.

HUA You think–

they’ll take me?

LING You were a sensation.

You told me.

HUA A sensation?

During the tour–

one night–

I slipped off to a theater–

in New York–

without my hosts–

Spent the evening–

watching a play–


A play about a man–

his life unlived–

At the end–

he sits with his niece–


HUA Two of them–

sitting in a cold room–

dreaming of a better–

a brighter life ahead–

Now what did she say?–

LING “We must go on living.

We shall go on living, Uncle Vanya.

We shall live–”

HUA Yes–

I was so–


so moved–

by what I saw.

Hua has a coughing fit.


Don’t talk anymore–

HUA After the show–

I walked into the foyer–

walked amongst the crowd–

no one–no one looked at me–

as if I was air–



Hua winces in pain.

LING Papa–

HUA But these were the same people–

the same people–

who had come to see me the week before

when I was on stage–


without my costumes–

my songs–

I was nothing–


in the sea of faces.


HUA You know–what I’d love?–

LING Tea?–

HUA The way–

I like it–

LING I’ll go get you some–

An emotional Ling doesn’t move.

HUA Tea–


HUA Hot–


HUA Tea–

LING The way you like it–

HUA And Ling?–


sing me that song–

LING That we used to sing?–

HUA Yes–

the one we used to sing right here–

Slowly and with much difficulty, Ling sings very slowly and softly.

LING “Gently, gently

She dances to her father’s voice

Gently, gently

In mei hua blossom night

Gently, gently–”

Hua dies.


Ling is about to cry but restrains her emotions.

She looks up into the balcony.

LING Someone help get him off me!

The class enemy is dead!


Back stage.

As in the last scene, Hua’s lifeless body is lying on top of Ling.

Sonja enters.

LING Did you spell my name correctly?

SONJA For the last time,


LING I just want to make sure

you’ve gotten all the facts.

All the details.

About what happened.

What truly happened.

I’m not responsible for my father’s–

SONJA You’ve said that already–

LING I want to be clear.

I want you to know everything.

Everything that happened.

I’m not responsible–

SONJA I know.


LING How many people,

do you think,

will read this book?


what happened to your father?

Hua slowly gets up and exits.

LING He was–


His death was officially classified

a suicide.

SONJA But it was murder.

LING It was–


SONJA If you say so.

Then what happened?

LING I took flight.

In 1976,

when Chairman Mao

finally died of a long illness,

the government splintered into factions.


the Communist Party officials denounced

Jiang Qing and the Gang of Four

as counterrevolutionaries.

SONJA Ironic.

LING And the Cultural Revolution

was declared obsolete,

a national mistake–

SONJA A mistake!

Lives and art were meaninglessly destroyed!

And it was all a mistake!

LING So I left–

SONJA Because

you knew

you’d be prosecuted by the new regime–


I’d be killed for–

SONJA For the murders of your father–


SONJA And Stage Manager Kong

who took care of you–!

LING I was not responsible!

I had to do it!

Don’t you see?

I had to!–

SONJA You wanted to be on the stage

at all costs!–


SONJA Even at the expense of your father’s life!–



SONJA Continue.


I packed a few things

and fled to the countryside.

Trying to get over to–

SONJA Hong Kong–


it was unsafe for me

to remain in China any longer–

SONJA It was a long and tiring journey–


I walked for weeks from Shanghai–

the dirt roads were deserted, lonely–

the paddy fields were often shrouded in–

SONJA Fog and mists–


Everything looked hazy and uncertain–

I stowed away–

SONJA In loud rattling trains–

LING And sometimes

I’d wearily walk alongside the–

SONJA Railroad tracks–


LING Tracks lined with plum trees–


Not plum–

Mei hua

Mei hua blossom trees–

They were–

LING You’re right–

Of course–

Mei hua blossom trees–


SONJA Walked for days–

I had no–

LING Food and water–

and finally I reached–

SONJA The South China Sea–




SONJA I swam–

In the icy black waters–

Choppy, strong–

LING I was so tired–

Water was–


I thought I couldn’t make it–

LING Have to ren


LING Endure–

SONJA And I swam on–

LING Remember the cold?–



LING I felt I was ripped into two–

SONJA Finally–

when I thought I wasn’t going to–

LING I finally reached the other side!–

SONJA I collapsed on the sandy beach–


LING My heavy body

into the forest unnoticed–

SONJA And stayed there–

LING Till it was safe

to go into the city.


SONJA Later,

I would change my name–

Ling walks to Sonja.

LING From Ling–

SONJA To Sonja.

LING After the niece in the Chekhov play,

Uncle Vanya.

Ling reaches to touch Sonja’s face but Sonja shies away.

LING Sonja Wong Pickford.

SONJA Famous writer.


I hate you.

Why did you kill him?



LING You know why Ling walks off.


Back stage.

Hua is sitting at his table putting on makeup. His back is toward the audience throughout this scene.


I’m sorry.

HUA For what?


can’t write the book.

HUA Why?

SONJA The book won’t come to me.


the book just won’t come to me.

The stories,

the words don’t add up.

They are lonely,

isolated pieces.

Pieces out of sequence,

out of joint,

out of time.


that never amount

to the full picture.

I hardly knew you.

HUA Find it in the silence.

Find it in the cracks.

Find it in the details.

SONJA I can’t.

I see nothing.

I spent

half of my life

trying to forget China.

Trying to forget you

and all that happened.

HUA Then

why did you want

to unleash the past?

Why did you want to come back here?

SONJA I–don’t know.

HUA Oh, you know.

SONJA What are you–?

HUA You want to write ‘something more.

Something important.

Something big.

Something credible.”

You want to use my life

and your past,

no matter how painful

and difficult.


HUA It’s all right.

I don’t care.

After all, it’s only a story.

SONJA It’s not only a story.

It’s my life!


If I remember anything vividly,

I remember this theater.

This dreadful theater

where everything happened.

HUA You have to ren.


Of course.


Your answer to everything.

HUA It helps.

SONJA It doesn’t!

Every time,

I lie in bed,

I keep thinking

if I could’ve done something–

HUA Something heroic?–

SONJA Done something to save you–

I could have spoken up–

I could have–

HUA You could have done nothing–

They were bigger than you were–

You’d have been swallowed up–

SONJA Instead I succumbed–


I could have–



HUA You’d have been killed–

ended up the same way I did–

SONJA You don’t know that!–

HUA You don’t know anything!–

SONJA Don’t dismiss me!–

HUA You know nothing!–

SONJA Stop directing me

like one of your characters

in your stupid operas!

HUA You’re still that misguided ignorant girl!–

SONJA If I did–

if I did something!–


and everything would be perfect!–


Everything would be perfect!–

HUA I did what was best for you!

Long pause.

SONJA Best for me?

Did you know

I’ve been having nightmares?

Recurring nightmares

of both of us

in this theater

for past twenty-five years?

I sleep in this theater every night!

And every night,

I wondered

if I could change my lines,

change the outcome of the scene.

But every night,

the actress is line perfect,

she knows her cues,

her blocking.

Nothing changes,

and why should it?

She’s been taught

by the best acting teacher

in the business.

HUA You’re alive.

It’s all that matters.

SONJA You made me denounce you.

Made me participate

in the senseless,

ruthless killings.

What kind of person–

What kind of child–

would do that?

HUA An obedient child.

A child

who listened to her father.

A child

who loved her father.

Hua looks at Sonja for a long moment.

HUA Sometimes

things are never the way

you want them to be.

One day

you wake up

and you realize

all that you believed in

was wrong,

all the good you thought you did was detrimental.

Time can do that to you.

The flag

you give your life for,

suddenly hates you.

A child

you think you know,

turns into a stranger.


you do either of two things:

You fight with it,

and lose that inevitable war.


you hold its cold hands,

and pray.

HUA What are you going to do?


Ling appears.

Sonja motions for Ling to take off her Red Guard uniform. Ling hands her uniform to Sonja. Sonja dresses in Ling’s uniform.

After Sonja has finished dressing, she looks at Ling. Ling looks at Sonja.


On stage.

Sonja in a Red Guard uniform. Her demeanor and tone is that of Ling’s in the prior scenes.

Hua holds up a play.


you admit you wrote this opera!

HUA Yes,

I wrote the Chekhov opera.

SONJA Your opera is counterrevolutionary!

In black and white.

On page forty-six!

You insinuate–

HUA I insinuate nothing!

You have completely misinterpreted

the good intentions

of this worthy opera!

sonja (Whispering) Papa,

I won’t do this anymore.

I won’t–

hua (Whispering) You must–

I will take the responsibility–

sonja (Whispering) You won’t–

there will be severe consequences–

hua (Out) You’re seeing

what you’ve chosen to see

in this work of art!

You have twisted

every innocent word of the opera

to further your own political agenda

and ambitions!

SONJA Shut up!

I’m not here to play games with you!

HUA Neither am I!

I’ve done nothing wrong!

SONJA Jiang Qing condemns your opera!

HUA I insist you release me at once!

sonja (Whispering) Papa,

I will confess.

hua (Whispering) I said

I’ll take the blame for your opera–

sonja (Whispering) No, you won’t–

I will confess–

hua (Whispering) You will not–

sonja (Whispering) This has gone on long enough, Papa–

Sonja grabs the play from Hua and stands in front of him. She looks out into the house.

HUA Ling–



Up there!

HUA Ling, what are you doing?

SONJA I have a confession!

I confess!

It was me!–


It was me!

I was responsible for the Chekhov opera!–

SONJA I authored the Chekhov opera!–

HUA I wrote it!

SONJA And it was a good revolutionary opera!

It exalted

all of Chairman Mao’s teachings!–

HUA She doesn’t know

what she’s talking about!

It was me!–

SONJA Everything

was taken from Mao’s book!

Every single word!–

HUA I wrote it!


it was infinitely better

than Jiang Qing’s so-called operas!–

HUA I wrote it!–

It was me!–


it was me!

HUA It was me!–


HUA Me!–




HUA He’s not there.


HUA He’s gone.




I didn’t know it would turn out like this.

I thought

the Red Guards was going to be–

it’s all a mistake–

My mistake.

HUA I know, Ling.

I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

SONJA I’ll quit from the Red Guards–

HUA Are you stupid?

They will immediately

become suspicious

if you leave the Red Guards.

Any sudden change of heart

will arouse their curiosity.

And they’ll come straight for you.

You stay with them,

through the bitter end.

SONJA I’ll tell them the truth–

HUA Think,



They’ve already targeted me

as an artist.

The Chekhov opera

is just another charge

they will stack against me.

This Cultural Revolution nonsense

will not last forever.

They will have to release me eventually.

SONJA What if they don’t?

What if they kill you?

HUA And you think

your truth is going to save me?

After they’ve purged you,

don’t you think

they’ll do the same to me?

What will be left of us?

Our family?

What will be left of all

that I have taught you?

My legacy.

Is that what you want?

What’s wrong with you?

You are

all I have.



For the last time,

do as I say.

Sonja kneels on the floor.

SONJA Papa. I’m sorry.

HUA I know, Ling.

I know.


get up.

Get up

before they see you.

Sonja does not get up. Hua kneels beside Sonja.

HUA You know

I’ll be out of here soon.


when you get out of here–

HUA We’ll go home–


have a feast–

SONJA Forget all of this–

HUA And we’ll come back to the theater–

SONJA You can act again–

HUA None of those revolutionary dramas–

SONJA The White-Haired Damsel

HUA I think you’re ready–

I saw your performance

in that dreadful Chekhov opera you wrote–

SONJA On stage with you–

HUA Oh no.

I’m too old.

I’m history.

SONJA You’re not.

HUA It’s your turn now.


Go make history.

Sonja and Hua stand.

Sonja looks out into the audience.

SONJA He’s back.

I see him.

I don’t know if I can–

HUA Yes.

You can.

You’re an actress.

Let the scene begin.

Hua holds up the confession paper as he did at the top of scene 18.


Sonja changes from her Red Guard uniform back into her original outfit.

SONJA Story of my life.

There I was.

At the height of my career.

Swimming in a swamp of




and personalities.

I’m an author.

Sonja Wong Pickford.

You may have heard of me.

If you haven’t,

visit your local bookstore.

Check under “romance.”


there I am.

After twenty years

in the business,

I was afraid to die,

and leave behind

a legacy of ethnic romances

to my name.

You see,

I wanted to write something more.

Something important.

Something big.

Something credible.


nothing came to me.


I flew back,

to the arms of Shanghai,

after twenty-five years.


During my last week in Shanghai,

I was contacted by the Chinese government

inviting me to a banquet ceremony

in honor of my father,

Hua Wai Mun The banquet was held

in a large antiseptic meeting hall.

Communist officials and artists

had gathered to commemorate

Papa’s theatrical achievements and


Some of them were Papa’s fellow actors.

Swee Keong, Ming Yao, Keng Sen,

they were all there.

I remembered

some of the crusty old farts

from the old days.


in the room,

were some of Papa’s colleagues

who delivered false testimonies

against him

during the Cultural Revolution.

But all of them

came up to congratulate me.

Said they’ve all read

Bound Feet, Bound Lives

and loved it.

They even saw the television movie.

The old men and women

showered me

with a torrent of adjectives,


about what a fine artist Papa was.

Some offered flowery words of flattery,

amusing anecdotes

stories of his influence on their lives.

They should have said something.

To him.

When he was alive.

When I pressed them

for more information on Papa,

they said nothing.

Shook their heads.


And walked away.

Papa would be very pleased.

The banquet served roast pig.



for me,

the highlight of my trip

was my first day in Shanghai.

I had stumbled,

quite by accident

onto the path home,

the opera theater

where I had spent my youth.

I had forgotten where it was.

As if guided by old memories,

by Papa’s indomitable spirit,

I found it.


On Unity Road.

The theater greeted me warmly

as a wrinkled old friend would.

It looked shyly abandoned.



It didn’t seem to recognize me.

Ling enters carrying a suitcase.

Sonja does not acknowledge her throughout this scene.

LING I spent a long time

in the darkened empty theater–

SONJA Spent most of the afternoon

in the dressing room–

LING Where Papa smoked endless cigarettes–

SONJA Drank endless cups of tea–

Sonja and Ling sniff the air.

LING I could still smell

the faint scent of makeup powder–

SONJA Could still smell Papa,

in the theater–

LING I must have dozed off.

I found my head

resting on the dressing table

when I awoke.

Groggy from my sleep,

I was enveloped by

the cold caress of night air–

SONJA I tugged my overcoat around me tightly–

LING And made my way

out of the theater–

sonja (Sadly) I know I’ll never return.

ling (Excitedly, optimistically) Never.

I’ll never come back.


SONJA As I was climbing down from the stage,

a tune,

a fractured melody,

trickled into my consciousness.

A song.


Hua enters and looks at Sonja and Ling who do not notice him.

Hua sings the lullaby.

LING A lullaby–

SONJA A lullaby–

LING That Papa used to sing to me.

SONJA How did it go?

That lullaby?

What was it?

“Gently, gently” something.


no more lullabies.

Ling reaches for her luggage.

SONJA That lullaby.

I can’t remember how it went.

I’m sure

it wasn’t that important anyway.

(Leaves the tape recorder on the ground)

I made my way back home.

Sonja walks away.

Ling walks off the stage.

Sonja sits down and looks out into audience.

Hua walks slowly towards Sonja, singing the lullaby.

Sonja listens to the lullaby.

HUA “Gently, gently

She dances to her father’s voice

Gently, gently

in mei hua blossom night–”

“Gently, gently

Mei hua fades to winter white

The little girl child

She’s no longer in sight

Gently, gently

Mei hua flower blossoms sway

Gently, gently

Her father misses her face”

In silence, Sonja lifts her hands and dances to the White-Haired Damsel. Hua, standing behind her, joins her. Both Hua and Sonja dance in unison.

Lights slowly fade to black.


Excerpted from The Hyphenated American: Four Plays: Red, Scissors, A Beautiful Country,

” Copyright 2002 by Chay Yew. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.