Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 322

In a 1983 review of Hwang’s double billing, Sound and Beauty in which The Sound of a Voice was first staged, New York Times critic Frank Rich called Hwang ‘‘a hugely gifted, Los Angeles-born Chinese- American writer.’’ Although Hwang’s career has had its ups and downs, most critics concur that the author of The Sound of a Voice has had a great influence on American theater. At one point in his career, many reviewers even referred to Hwang’s having been gifted with a Midas touch—everything he wrote was a success.

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The Sound of a Voice was somewhat a departure for Hwang, when it first was staged in New York, where it enjoyed a two-month off-Broadway run. His previous works had focused on the plight of Chinese immigrants as they attempted to adapt to their new lives in the United States. ‘‘I’m in a state of transition right now,’’ Hwang told a reporter for People Weekly, a year following the completion of the first run of this play. He was concerned at that time that he was being categorized as a Chinese- American playwright, so he thought he would write about something a little different than the Chinese- American immigrant experience.

Although Rich did not view the play altogether favorably, he did find the overall atmosphere very ‘‘pictorial’’ and concluded that the play represented ‘‘an earnest, considered experiment furthering an exceptional young writer’s process of growth.’’

The play has been staged over the years in small theaters, and in 1994, it was performed in Salt Lake City as part of a celebration of Asian/Pacific American Awareness Week. Linda Sarver, for Theatre Journal reviewed the performance, referring to its ‘‘sparse and symbol-laden dialogue [that] is elegant in its minimalism.’’ Sarver also commented on the reaction of the audience at the end of the play, which she felt ‘‘attested to the effectiveness, beauty, and deep emotion’’ of Hwang’s work.

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Essays and Criticism