The play Trying To Find Chinatown is written by an American playwright David Henry Hwang in 1996. The playwright, David Henry Hwang, belongs to an immigrant Chinese family and most of his work is greatly influenced by his roots and his experiences as an Asian American. On March 29, 1996, the play was first presented in the Humana Festival as part of the Actors Theatre of Louisville. It is originally a two-person play about two Asian American men in search of their Asian heritage and identity. David Henry Hwang bases his entire play on the issues of discrimination, the acceptance and refusal of racial identity, as well as the popularity of stereotypes in society.
The two main characters, Benjamin and Ronnie perfectly symbolize the stereotypes about two races. Benjamin is a blue-eyed, blond haired, twenty-something Caucasian man. Whereas, Ronnie is a twenty-something Chinese man who plays the violin on the sidewalk. Ronnie’s anger and frustration at stereotypes is pretty obvious when Benjamin asks for directions to a place in Chinatown. Ronnie’s response is a series of aggressive words and racial taunts that show how uncomfortable he is with his own identity. Ronnie is offended by the fact that just because he looks Asian, Benjamin assumes that he must know the whereabouts of Chinatown.
Benjamin, on the other hand, is also an Asian American, visiting New York in order to find the house that belonged to his departed father. He was raised and adopted at an early age by Asian American parents and felt great pride in having a Chinese identity. His full name is Benjamin Wong. However, Ronnie was so sure and annoyed at Benjamin’s “white-ness” that he didn’t even give him a proper chance to introduce himself. Ronnie throws insults after insults about Benjamin being a trailer trash, white, etcetera. If Ronnie had gotten a chance, he would’ve realised that Benjamin wasn’t running away from his identity. As opposed to embracing all things Western, Benjamin was actually trying to understand his own roots better.
Ronnie seems to be a character that is so used to being discriminated against that he in turn has become racist and discriminatory against other people. Ronnie isn’t really a horrible person, but his anger and frustration are a response to the kind of experiences he’s had his entire life. This is probably the reason he fails to communicate and resolve the issue with Benjamin. Overall, the rigidity of the two characters and their set beliefs throughout the play give the audience a slight idea of how stereotypes are made in the first place. At the end of the day, Ronnie has absolutely no sympathy for Benjamin and cannot relate to him at all. He even fails to understand the happiness Benjamin feels when he finally finds his father’s house.
To sum it up, the play very obviously details how the lack of communication between people from different races can further deepen the divide between races and strengthen stereotypes. The play also very aptly presents the world’s situation of the mid-nineties. The playwright manages to subtly hint at the fact that there is a dire need for human interaction and intimacy. Reading the play was a delight and is highly recommended to other people.
“Trying to Find Chinatown.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 12 Nov 2008, 07:07 UTC. 3 May 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Trying_to_Find_Chinatown&oldid=251289889>.