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The First Chinese Lady Brought to America

Artists Repertory Theatre (ART) resumes in person theatre with The Chinese Lady by Lloyd Suh, a comedic drama inspired by the true story of Afong Moy, the first Chinese lady brought to America.

Presented by Artists Rep October 6, 2021

The Chinese Lady tells the story of fourteen-year-old Afong Moy as she’s brought to the United States from Guangzhou Province in 1834. Allegedly the first Chinese woman to set foot on U.S. soil, she has been put on display for the American public as “The Chinese Lady.” For the next half-century, she performs for curious white people, showing them how she eats, what she wears, and the highlight of the event: how she walks with bound feet. As the decades wear on, her celebrated sideshow comes to define and challenge her very sense of identity.

“Working on this production with fellow Asian immigrants has meant the world to me. We laugh about the culture shock we experienced that Afong Moy talks about in the show—we all went through it,” Director Lava Alapai reflects. “And as the time passes we feel a loss of our first languages, our cultures and the country we once called home. As Afong Moy says, ‘We become less and less.’”

“Lloyd Suh's The Chinese Lady is one of the most delicately crafted, incisive, and potent plays I've ever read,” says Dámaso Rodríguez, Artistic Director of Artists Repertory Theatre. “When I first encountered the script nearly three years ago, I shared it with brilliant Portland actor and ART Resident Artist Barbie Wu, to see if she felt as strongly about the play as me. She committed to playing the title role almost immediately upon reading it, and we began planning the production. Following two postponements during the course of the pandemic, I am thrilled to finally share this vital and beautiful work--in person--with our community.”

“I was introduced to Lloyd’s play The Chinese Lady in the Winter of 2019. I didn’t know anything about Lloyd, his play, or Afong Moy” says Barbie Wu, who plays Afong Moy and is a Resident Artist of Artists Repertory Theatre. “His words shattered me and put me back together in ways I didn’t think were possible. As an Asian actor in America I am constantly caught between wanting to be seen for my cultural identity and my humanity.” Wu continues, “Afong Moy’s earnest good hope of culturing sharing will continue to echo in me til the end of time.”

The cast of The Chinese Lady features Barbie Wu (ART Education Manager and Resident Artist) and visiting artist Bern Tan.  

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