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Signature Theatre Presents David Henry Hwang's "The Dance and the Railroad" at The Pershing Square Signature Center
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Signature Theatre Presents David Henry Hwang's "The Dance and the Railroad" at The Pershing Square Signature Center

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Signature Theatre Presents:
The Dance and the Railroad

By David Henry Hwang
Directed by May Adrales

Signature Theatre
(Signature Theatre Website)
James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director
Erika Mallin, Exec. Director
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 244-PLAY (7529)

Ruy Iskandar and Yuekun Wu

Scenic Design: Mimi Lien
Costume Design: Jennifer Moeller
Lighting Design: Jiyoun Chang
Sound Design: Broken Chord
Music: Huang Ruo
Chinese Opera Consultant: Qian Yi
Casting: Telsey + Company/William Cantler CSA
Production Stage Manager: Cole P. Bonenberger
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Assoc. Artistic Director: Beth Whitaker
General Manager: Adam Bernstein
Director of Marketing: David Hatkoff
Director of Production: Paul Ziemer

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 1, 2013

Although David Henry Hwang’s The Dance and The Railroad doesn’t exude the level of depth and captivation of his plays, already reviewed on this column, Chinglish and Golden Child, it’s a play that provokes the mind, long after the lights disappear. Ruy Iskandar, as Ma, and Yuekun Wu, as Lone, are young men, working on America’s transcontinental railroad in June, 1867. This two-man play is a psychic drama about coping, yearning, and imagination. Lone has been in America a few years, having halted his acting and choreography studies of Chinese opera. Ma has arrived recently, and he watches Lone practice the arm and leg motions so inherent to works at the Chinese opera. Lone balances tenuously at the edge of the mountain crags, where the one-act play is set. Jiyoun Chang’s lighting on Mimi Lien’s set design showcases the uncluttered levels and lines on which this duo walks, tip toe at times, to prove their dedication to a yearned for career in the arts.

While they cope with low wages and wait for the smallest salary increase, they live in an imagined world onstage, at the edge of a cliff, practicing a craft. That craft has been Lone’s, as he enveloped himself in thoughts of grandeur, but Ma wins his favor and stays endlessly crouched like a duck, to prove he can morph from rail builder to stage character. As the men compete with tales of family sorrow, occasionally tinged with joy, they open themselves to vulnerability. At one point they practice fencing with Chinese opera sticks, leaping over and under the wooden weapons. It’s youthful machismo, with athleticism and theatrics, that unfolds, and the dialogue should follow this poetic setup. However, when I saw two women leave the theater early, it was apparent that some of the ghoulish chatter, between the characters, was more than they could handle. I found that chatter, although probably authentic for these transplanted characters, in stark contrast to the clever repartee of Hwang’s previous works. It was also unnecessary. A more probing dialogue of the life left in China, without the gruesome details, would have been appreciated.

Ruy Iskandar and Yuekun Wu were both in full character, with Mr. Wu convincing as an opera student. His onstage moves, thanks to a Chinese opera consultant, appeared natural and seasoned. Mr. Iskandar was well matched for the dueling scene, and they both exuded stage presence. Huang Ruo’s background music and Broken Chord’s sound design added exoticism and cultural detail to the plight of Lone and Ma, on this bare, imposing mountaintop. I look forward to new works by Mr. Hwang.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at