‘Soft Power’: A Powerfully Acted but Underwhelming Spectacle

Actors in a scene of David Henry Hwang's latest production, "Soft Power".

By Guest Contributor: Edward Hong (@CinnabonMonster)

Ever since I wanted to be an actor in high school, I became immediately aware of Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang. To this day, Hwang is arguably the best known Asian-American playwright in the world. Hwang’s plays (most notably, F.O.B. and M. Butterfly) have pioneered the expression of the Asian American identity on stage for the world to see.

To say that Hwang was a playwright I looked up to as an Asian-American actor would be a huge understatement. This guy was everything to me.

Thus, it was a no-brainer that I would go watch his latest work, Soft Power, which premiered on May 3rd at the Ahmanson Theatre. Excitement, intrigue, and fascination all swirled into one, particularly since Soft Power was also a collaboration between Hwang and well-known composer, Jeanine Tesor (Fun Home).

So what’s Soft Power all about?

The following review contains several spoilers about the latest musical production Soft Power. Please read on with care.

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Playwright David Henry Hwang Recovering After Being Slashed in Neck in Random Assault

David Henry Hwang
David Henry Hwang

The New York Daily News reports today that Tony Award-winning playwright and Yale alum David Henry Hwang is recovering in his Brooklyn-area home after being the victim of a random assault Sunday evening. Hwang was apparently walking near his home when he was attacked from behind by an unknown assailant who slashed his neck. After the attack, Hwang noticed he was bleeding and walked to a hospital.

Hwang told the Daily News:

“Thanks to the excellent work of the doctors at Brooklyn Hospital and Mount Sinai, I’m now home and expected to make a full recovery,” Hwang told the Daily News.

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New opera recounts the life and death of Pvt. Danny Chen, an American soldier

Andrew Stenson plays Pvt. Danny Chen in David Henry Hwang's newest opera, "An American Soldier". (Photo credit: Sarah Tilotta / NPR)
Andrew Stenson plays Pvt. Danny Chen in David Henry Hwang’s newest opera, “An American Soldier”. (Photo credit: Sarah Tilotta / NPR)

Private Danny Chen, a Chinese American soldier serving in Afghanistan, was only 19 years old when he was found dead of a single gunshot wound in a guard tower in Kandahar Province. The U.S. Army initially declared the death a suicide; only after a military investigation was it revealed that Chen had endured horrific racial abuse at the hands of his supposed brothers-in-arms in the weeks leading up to his death.

The only Chinese American in his platoon, Chen had been the target of a number of racial slurs — including “gook”, “chink”, “eggroll” and “dragon lady”. He had also been hazed mercilessly: he had been beaten mercilessly with stones, dragged across gravel until bloodied and bruised, kicked repeatedly, forced to do push-ups while holding water in his mouth, and assigned excessive guard duty to the point of exhaustion. Two months after his death, eight of Chen’s fellow officers were court-martialed and charged with numerous crimes related to his death; yet, most of those charges were later dropped or reduced, including the most serious charge of involuntary manslaughter. Most of the officers involved in Chen’s death were given paltry sentences — one soldier received a mere 30 days in jail and a demotion in rank — and currently, the Army refuses to divulge any additional details in the case. Chen’s case became the impetus for new legislation in the review of military hazing deaths.

Now, playwright David Henry Hwang has refused to let Private Danny Chen’s story be forgotten; instead, he has adapted Chen’s story into an hour-long opera titled “An American Soldier”.

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