Thai-Australian playwright Anchuli Felicia King wrote the play entitled “Golden Shield” about the class action lawsuit of Chinese dissidents and their subsequent human rights abuses brought against a U.S. technology company for their collusion with the Chinese government.
Known as The Golden Shield Project or China’s Great Firewall, it enables censorship and digital surveillance, a subject recently prevalent in the news with the suppression of COVID-19 data by the Chinese government.
The play requires the audience to pay attention, for there are additional underlying themes that King explores with her characters, and some words spoken are in Mandarin. An essential part of the conflict presented is how we fail to communicate, not just because of language differences but also because of differences between family members. Communication problems exist in the technology world and the American Judicial system.
King introduced fictional characters, high-powered lawyer Julie Chen (Cindy Cheung) and her younger sister and translator Eva (Ruibo Qian), diametrically different, as King has explained, a metaphor for the ongoing destructive relationship between the United States and China. Julie wants to take on the American technology company in a U.S. courtroom to punish them financially for their purported collaboration with the Chinese. Still, she requires the dissidents who know about the corruption to appear in the American court. Unfortunately, Julie doesn’t speak Mandarin and needs the help of her younger sister.
What Julie doesn’t know is her sister has supported herself by prostitution. Eva says, “I’m freelancing,” when asked what she does. The self-righteous lawyer must put aside her feelings to get what she needs from her. King wrote a character, “The Translator (Fang Du),” necessary to explain the ideological differences between Mandarin and English. According to the translator, humans struggle with communication that goes deeper than language.
“I can try to find an English equivalent if one exists. But, of course, I risk making false parallels. Unwittingly engaging in the act of…linguistic imperialism, or I can really spell it out.”
Julie is a linear thinker whose end game is all about winning. Eva, whom we learn was abused by their mother when Julie left her behind in China, is more of a circular thinker. This difference leads them both at odds with each other even after Eva assists with getting a tortured male dissident to leave his home in China and testify in court, no matter what the consequences are to him.
Golden Shield portrays the imaginary technology company as the evil face of the corporate world, driven by greed and the lack of compassion for the value of humanity over the dollar. Their lawyer, Jane (Gillian Saker), exposes her unsympathetic attitude toward Julie’s lawsuit to the VP of China operations for the tech company.
“Larry (Daniel Jenkins), I will tell you a little secret about international law. The only effectual branch of international arbitration- the only practicable branch–is the one I specialize in. Corporate law. This means that international arbitration mechanisms have been built to serve corporate interests. There are essentially none that allow anybody to prosecute us.”
In the end, Julie’s law firm doesn’t win; unable to see the end game, she turns down a $20 million offer to settle. The two sisters can’t heal, with a vast chasm between them, even simple interaction won’t solve.
“And maybe if we just…developed a system, or boundaries, for communicating, then…that would…help,” Julie says after the trial.
Eva responds, “I don’t think so.”
Golden Shield will leave you pondering the depth of ideas presented in the play long after you leave the theater. The use of foul language in the show was a bit much, but that is what communication is all about.
Manhattan Theatre Club (Lynne Meadow, Artistic Director and Barry Grove, Executive Producer) is pleased to present the American premiere of Golden Shield, written by Anchuli Felicia King (White Pearl) and directed by May Adrales (Vietgone at MTC); scenic design by dots; costume design by Sara Ryung Clement; lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew; original music and sound design by Charles Coes and Nathan A. Roberts; hair and wig design by Tom Watson; vocal coach Ka-Ling Cheung; casting by Kelly Gillespie & Andrea Zee; production stage manager Alyssa K. Howard; press representative Boneau/Bryan-Brown. The ensemble will feature Cindy Cheung, Fang Du, Kristen Hung, Daniel Jenkins, Michael C. Liu, Max Gordon Moore, Ruibo Qian, and Gillian Saker.
Golden Shield opens on Tuesday, May 17, 2022, at New York City Center–Stage I (131 West 55th Street).
TICKETING INFORMATION: Tickets for Golden Shield can be purchased online at www.nycitycenter.org, by calling 212-581-1212, or by visiting the New York City Center box office (131 West 55th Street).
The running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
Readers may enjoy some of our other Off-Broadway show reviews like Oratorio for Living Things, The Legend of the Waitress and the Robber, Exception to the Rule, and My Moment – 106 Women on Fighting for Themselves.
Here’s a link to another City Center production, The Life.