“Poetry is what gets lost in translation,” said Robert Frost. And after watching Anchuli Felicia King’s engrossing and poetic Golden Shield, I’m inclined to add “as is love.”
Directed by May Adrales at New York City Center, the Manhattan Theatre Club production follows Chinese-American lawyer Julie Chen (Cindy Cheung), as she tries to sue a technology corporation that, in the process of making China’s internet more “efficient” ahead of the Beijing Olympics, allowed the Chinese government to crack down harder on certain “dissidents.” When Julie engages her younger sister Eva (Ruibo Qian), fluent in Mandarin, to act as her translator, past trauma and unburied tensions between the two sisters threaten to undermine the entire case.
But if Julie and Eva are the main stars of the piece, they're supported by a cast of dynamic and intriguing characters. Max Gordon Moore plays Marshall McLaren, the defendant in the case and the man responsible for boosting both China's internet and censorship. Toxic and arrogant, he's laugh-out-loud hilarious as a stage character whom I wouldn't want anything to do with in real life. Elsewhere, a Chinese couple brutally affected by the government's censorship adds sweetness to a play that shows just how coarse and indifferent people can be to each other--even and especially to those closest to them.
But I haven't yet mentioned the best part: "The Translator." Played by Fang Du, this entertaining if unnamed character narrates, informs, and comments on the play’s proceedings. He translates Mandarin conversations (like those between the Chinese couple) into English, but his role doesn't end there. He also translates gestures—a sigh, an embrace; and remarks—“I’m fine,” “I don't mind," "I can't talk about it,” that really mean something else. He even comments on the art of translation itself. For instance, different translators have different styles; you can't always translate literally to get the intended meaning across; and coincidentally, in both Mandarin and English, there is only one word for "love."
Love itself is one of the many things that apparently needs translating. In her repeated attempts to connect with her sister Eva, it's clear that Julie loves her; but having grown up under a tyrannical mother, Julie's emotional intelligence is stunted, and she can't seem to say the needed words to heal the breach. Likewise, Eva herself suffers from a fear of failure that complicates her own relationships. And Julie's client Li Dao still struggles to voice just what exactly happened to him while imprisoned by the government for five years; in fact, years after, he and his wife have never discussed it. Just about everyone, it seems, needs a translator.
Such is the richness and nuance of Golden Shield: riveting and deeply thought-provoking, it draws lines--parallel, intersectional--between people who in some ways couldn't be more opposite; it reminds us that each decision has far-reaching ripple effects; and it urges us to fight so that our most cherished relationships don't get lost in translation.
'Golden Shield' opens May 17 at New York City Center - Stage I (131 West 55th Street). For more information and to purchase tickets, please see the link below: