An Evening With David Henry Hwang

By: Jessica Montez

Photo Courtesy of: Jessica Montez

In a public reading by David Henry Hwang, the playwright opens with, “If you don’t fail from time to time, you’re not working hard enough…every success has some drops of poison in it and every failure comes with gifts.” Students and faculty members gathered and filled the Crystal Cove Auditorium to enjoy a night of paying homage to the timeless Asian American playwright on Nov. 14. With this, our Asian American Theatre Company on campus, Theatre Woks, performed a stage reading of selections from some of Hwang’s most famous writings, including: “M. Butterfly,” “F.O.B” and “Chinglish.”  

In discussing his writing process for such plays —  which let’s be honest, are all brilliant — Hwang related playwriting to going on a road trip. He further explained that he knows where he will start and where he will finish but the bumpy middle area is unknown at first: that’s the plot. He is known primarily for his emphasis on inclusivity of Asian American actors in his works. 

“There was a social need [for Asian actors to receive more opportunities in theatre] and I was able to walk through this newly-opened door and articulate that need,” said Hwang when referring to the mere luck of his success through writing a play for Asian Americans. 

Although it seems that men and women of Hwang’s caliber have always been prestigious, it was enlightening to hear his experiences told from his perspective as a young college student and self-proclaimed, “terrible playwright.” He even revealed that theatre was not of interest to him until his college years at Stanford University. Once he divulged more about his growth and struggles as an aspiring artist, the energy in the room shifted; what started as a distant admiration of a playwright became a direct connection to a man who wanted to inspire.  

After the performances and his talk-back, the audience was invited to purchase one of his two books and attend his book signing. The hushed roar of audience members rushing to line up completely filled the lobby down through the auditorium. In what seemed like only minutes, each person met and engaged with Hwang; relating stories, exchanging compliments and extending warm hugs and firm handshakes. This was an unforgettable night for the UCI Department of Drama, as well as for its patrons. We hope that, in our own college careers – theatrical or not – we too will see a need, find an open door and walk through it. Visionaries like Hwang aren’t created in a day, but a vision can be acted on in an instant.