Dr. Martin Luther King’s name is instantly recognizable to most Americans-particularly for African Americans. A lesser-known beacon of integrity shone brightly for Chinese-Americans, but not many will recall Wong Chin Foo.
Now, his story is being told, thanks to the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre. Citizen Wong, a world premiere play by Richard Chang whisks us back to 19th century New York and San Francisco where Wong (Whit K. Lee) a multi-hyphenate renaissance man is encountering his first taste of Asian discrimination. As his story continues, complexities of romance and political machinations follow
Although Wong was a naturalized American citizen and an established journalist, he faced constant battles to be tolerated and respected, leading him to be a mouthpiece of justice for the Chinese community.
Lee delivers a strong performance in this modest, six actor piece. His ferocity and conviction are inspiring to watch. Chang’s writing is earnest, but often predictable and formulaic. Directors Ernest Abuba and Chongren Fan have assembled a cast (most of whom portray multiple roles) that lean more towards caricatures than fully-fleshed individuals.
Still, this is a play to admire and embrace. Two centuries later, one might think that our American society has evolved to be more welcoming, yet nothing could be more misleading. Hate crimes towards refugees, asylum seekers, and even native Asian communities continue to rise—even in liberal cities like New York and San Francisco. For that reason alone, we are fortunate to have companies like Pan Asian Rep, who continue to share such important stories.
Citizen Wong is now playing Off Broadway in the Mezzanine at A.R.T./New York Theatres (502 W. 53rd between 10th and 11th ave., NYC) through May 1st. For tickets and information, click here.