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Check out Artists Rep's 'The Chinese Lady,' a humorous and historical play about Afong Moy.

COURTESY PHOTO: ARTISTS REPERTORY THEATRE - Barbie Wu plays Afong Moy in The Chinese Lady, staged by Artists Repertory Theatre at The Armory. This play centers on a woman brought to the United States as an exhibit, serving as an examination of cultural sharing, identity and humanity.It's been pretty well documented how and when people, other than Native Americans, arrived in North America and the United States.

The Chinese came as laborers, but "allegedly" the first Chinese woman to set foot on U.S. soil came as an ambassador of sorts and inspired the time-skipping historical and humorous play "The Chinese Lady" by Artists Repertory Theatre. It stages at The Armory through Nov. 14.

By Lloyd Suh and directed by Lava Alapai, it's the story of Afong Moy, the first Chinese lady brought to America at age 14 from the Guangzhou Province in 1834. Traders brought her to the states and Foy basically served as an exhibit as "The Chinese Lady."

As the story goes, Moy performs for curious white people, showing them how she eats, what she wears and how she walks with little feet (the result of foot binding). "As the decades wear on, her celebrated sideshow comes to define and challenge her very sense of identity," Artists Rep promotions say.

COURTESY PHOTO: ARTISTS REPERTORY THEATRE - Bern Tan plays Atung alongside Barbie Wu (Afong Moy) in "The Chinese Lady."Apparently her popularity waned in later years, and she disappeared into obscurity.

"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," said Alapai, who's originally from Okinawa, Japan. "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," said Damaso Rodriguez, Artists Rep artistic director. "When I first encountered the script nearly three years ago, I shared it with brilliant Portland actor and Artists Rep 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."

Said Wu: "I didn't know anything about Lloyd, his play, or Afong Moy. 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. … Afong Moy's earnest hope of cultural sharing will continue to echo in me until the end of time."

The cast features Wu and visiting artist Bern Tan as Atung.

Stagings of "The Chinese Lady," after its opener Oct. 23, are 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27-30, Nov. 3-7 and Nov. 10-13, and 2 p.m. Oct. 31, Nov. 7 and Nov. 14 at The Armory, 128 N.W. 11th Ave. It's being held at The Armory, as reconstruction of Artists Rep's theater at 1515 S.W. Morrison St. continues.

For tickets: artistsrep.org.

— Jason Vondersmith


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