The play that gave David Henry Hwang his second Tony nomination (the first was for M. Butterfly, for which he won) just ended a successful run in the land of Hwang’s grandmother: the Philippines.
Three women fighting for the attention of one man. A man caught in the middle of traditional beliefs and modernization. And a child who witnesses her family’s destruction and rebirth in the midst of change.
This is the story of the play Golden Child. A plot that would bring anyone to tears... tears of laughter, that is. David Henry Hwang, best known for his play M. Butterfly, was able to blend not only Eastern and Western cultures in Golden Child, but also drama and comedy.
Golden Child’s story began 40 years ago, when the 10-year-old Hwang decided to visit his dying
grandmother in the Philippines. His grandmother told him the family history, which the young David turned into a short novel. The novel was passed around the family, but it took 20 more years before it developed into a play.
What is ironic, Hwang says is that he wrote the novel then because he thought his grandmother was dying; but she lived long enough to watch the play.
Though based on a true story, Hwang admits that some parts of the play are fictional. Real or made up, however, Golden Child is able to present both personal and societal conflicts in an entertaining way.
The witty lines and sarcastic undertones would keep any audience glued to their seats. The competent acting brought the characters, secretly conniving against each other, to life. The stage, which was divided into “rooms” by translucent tapestries, was arranged to show how women
sharing the same household could live in different worlds.
The story revolves around Eng Tieng Bin, a successful businessman in the Philippines, and his family in China. When Tieng Bin returned to China, he brought home both newfangled gifts and Western beliefs. The latter ran contrary to the traditional beliefs being practiced by his household.
This struggle between tradition and modernity in the home was observed by Ahn, Tieng Bin’s favorite daughter. When Ahn complained about her smelly, rotting, bound feet, her father saw her pain and ordered her feet to be unbound, upsetting traditional custom. The unbinding of Ahn’s feet signaled the family’s break from tradition. It also started them on the path to modernity, which
destroyed and strengthened the family at the same time.
Although the play focused on the story of a single family, it also reflected what happens to traditional societies slowly being influenced by modern ideas.
The women portray how people react to change, whether male or female, no matter where in the world they may be. The conservative first wife holds onto old beliefs no matter what. The second wife immediately embraces Western ways without really understanding them just to earn her spouse’s favor. The third wife loves her husband deeply, but is torn between wanting to be modern for his sake and keeping her parents’ ways. The child Ahn, on the other hand, combines both cultures, tentatively at first. But she eventually finds a marriage between old and new that she can live with.
Ahn, the Golden Child, took on new beliefs without losing her identity. She represents the next generation who learns to live in a changing world without losing themselves in the process.