Saturday, May 9, 2020

89. THE CHICKENCOOP CHINAMAN. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975


THE CHICKENCOOP CHINAMAN
 
Sab Shimono, Randy Kim, Leonard Jackson.
"In Lieu of Reviews"

Reviews of live theatre being impossible during these days of the pandemic, THEATRE'S LEITER SIDE is pleased to provide instead accounts of previous theatre seasons--encompassing the years 1970-1975-for theatre-hungry readers. If you'd like to know the background on how this previously unpublished series came to be and what its relationship is to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage volumes (covering every New York play, musical, revue, and revival between 1920 and 1950), please check the prefaces to any of the entries beginning with the letter “A.” See the list at the end of the current entry.


THE CHICKENCOOP CHINAMAN [Drama/Films/Friendship/Race] A: Frank Chin; D: Jack Gelber; S: John Wulp; C: Willa Kim; L: Roger Morgan; P: American Place Theatre; T: American Place Theatre (OB); 5/27/72-6/24/72 (6)

Critic Edith Oliver considered this play about the identity problems of Chinese Americans “a moving, funny, pain-filled, sarcastic, bitter, [and] ironic” work. Jack Kroll, although less enthused, remarked about playwright Frank Chin’s “real vitality, humor and pain.” The prevailing opinion held that this work, perhaps the first to seriously attempt an expos√© of the cultural and social conflicts encountered by Chinese Americans (and, by extension, Asian Americans), was weakly structured, verbose, and rhetorically inflated. It was accused of being "bewildering" (Richard Watts), filled with “tiresome arguments” (Douglas Watt). Martin Gottfried shouted that it was “clumsily written, self-indulgent, frequently incoherent, largely inproductible [sic] and infinitely boring,” as well as “hopelessly masturbatory.”

The play examined its ethnic problem through the eyes of Tam Lum (Randy Kim), a hip-talking, long-haired, young Los Angeles filmmaker who arrives in Philadelphia to do some work on a documentary he is making about a black fighter. He stays at the apartment of a Japanese American buddy named Kenji (Sab Shimono), a dentist. Kenji’s white, sarcastic, pregnant girlfriend, Lee (Sally Kirkland), who lives there with her son by an earlier marriage, offers Tam Lum plenty of opportunities for verbal sharpshooting.

Tam Lum, the author’s mouthpiece, was deemed an egocentric, obnoxious, wisecracking, talkative boor, whom Watt called “an unattractive nuisance.” The play itself was basically realistic but its frequently ornate and image-laden language, along with its flashbacks, fantasies, and use of direct address added various elements of theatricalism.

Several critics appreciated the acting and direction. Most, though, thought the production impotently performed and staged.

Previous entries:

Abelard and Heloise
Absurd Person Singular
AC/DC
“Acrobats” and “Line”
The Advertisement/
All My Sons
All Over
All Over Town
All the Girls Came Out to Play
Alpha Beta
L’Amante Anglais         
Ambassador
American Gothics
Amphitryon
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little       
And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers
And Whose Little Boy Are You?
Anna K.
Anne of Green Gables
Antigone
Antiques
Any Resemblance to Persons Living or Dead
Applause
Ari
As You Like It
Augusta
The Au Pair Man

Baba Goya [Nourish the Beast]
The Ballad of Johnny Pot
Barbary Shore
The Bar that Never Closes
The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel
The Beauty Part
The Beggar’s Opera
Behold! Cometh the Vanderkellens
Be Kind to People Week
Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill
Bette Midler’s Clams on a Half-Shell Revue
Black Girl
Black Light Theatre of Prague
Black Picture Show
Black Sunlight
The Black Terror
Black Visions
Les Blancs
Blasts and Bravos: An Evening with H,L. Mencken
Blood
Bluebeard
Blue Boys
Bob and Ray—The Two and Only
Boesman and Lena
The Boy Who Came to Leave
Bread
A Breeze from the Gulf
Brief Lives
Brother Gorski
Brothers
Bullshot Crummond
Bunraku
The Burnt Flower Bed
Butley
Button, Button
Buy Bonds, Buster

The Cage
Camille
Candide (1)
Candide (2)
The Candyapple
Captain Brassbound’s Conversion
The Caretaker
La Carpa de los Raquichis
The Carpenters
The Castro Complex
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The Changing Room
Charles Abbott and Son
Charley’s Aunt
Charlie Was Here and Now He’s Gone
Chemin de Fer