The Chickencoop Chinaman established Chin’s success and became the first play by an Asian American to be produced on Broadway. Yet the work is not one that would seem to recommend itself to the average theatergoer, given the play’s dark theme, its depiction of the irreparable loss of a father, and its irresolute climax.
Ironically, of all Chin’s works, this piece, which established his credentials as a Chinese American writer, is the one least concerned with the Chinese American experience. Rather, the play portrays the extravagant heterogeneity of the United States. Each character’s life is an unstable ethnic mélange. The protagonist, Tam Lum, a Chinese American, was raised in a black area of Los Angeles. Now, as a young man, he devotes his energy to making a film about his idol, an African American prizefighter.
The play does not celebrate this diversity. Instead, it counts the cost in unhappiness for those who have no clear-cut allegiances: These characters, who have lost their natal culture, have not been able to attach themselves to any other tradition. Tam is making a film to prove himself, but at bottom, he is not sure what he is proving or to whom he has to prove something.
If The Chickencoop Chinaman were a conventional play, its plot development would probably concern how the characters recontacted their base cultures and relocated their fathers. In Chin’s alternative dramaturgy, however, the...
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