There has been much hype surrounding David Henry Hwangs’ “Kung Fu” and I was hoping to see more of a biographic play about Bruce Lee. This felt more like an unfinished musical. Historically accurate episodes of his life are turned into dance numbers.
The action of the play shuttles back and forth between Hong Kong, where he spent the first 20 years of his life, and the US where his martial arts and acting career begins to accelerate. In Hong Kong he had roles in many movies and became a proficient martial artist. However these years were marred by involvement with street gangs, fighting and recurrent trouble with the police. His relationship with his father was contentious and is a recurrent theme. Other themes that are developed involve racial prejudice, marital relationship and the importance of knowing oneself.
The play starts in Seattle where Bruce is waiting on tables after being sent to the US by his father in order to escape retribution from street gangs and authorities in Hong Kong. The shifting of scenes in time and space is well done and easy to follow however much of the dialogue is silly. Early in the play Bruce says to a student: “I chew gum. You want to know why? Because Fu man chew.” The dialogue does not get much better from here.
The dance numbers incorporating aspects of the martial arts were very good albeit somewhat repetitious. Cole Horibe, as Bruce Lee, was great to watch. His body resembles that of the real Bruce Lee. Mr Horibe is a dancer and was a Tae Kwon Do Junior champion. There’s is a lovely fluidity to the way he moves. (Fact: Bruce Lee really did win the 1958 Hong Kong Cha Cha championship).
The ending of the play was somewhat jarring. He returns to Hong Kong where he and his wife decide to stay in order to jump start his acting career. The play just ends abruptly with this decision. This was a little disappointing.
Tickets at the Signature Theater are always $25. Even though this is not a great play it’s a great price for a night out. Go early and hang out in the lobby. The café and lounge is a fun place to people watch. LAR
IMAGE: Photo by Gregory Costanzo.