Leila, through her marriage to a successful Anglo doctor, has acquired wealth , sophistication and prestige within the community. What she lacks and desperately longs for is a tangible connection with her Chinese heritage.
This was bestowed by her father on her older brother, Arthur. It was Arthur who as a youth was sent to China to learn the ancient arts and who eventually inherited all the family heirlooms.
However, Arthur also has borne the overwhelming burden of his father’s expectations and been found lacking. Slowly sinking under the weight of his self-loathing, the wily but dissolute alcoholic survives by periodically conning his sister into paying exorbitant prices for the last remaining remnants of the family treasures.
Moving warily about Tom Donaldson’s rudimentary but functional set, Kwan and Lee are well-matched combatants as the siblings prod, jab and cajole one another into a reevaluation of themselves, their past and their future relationship.
Kwan flows easily between haughty sophistication and girlish insecurity, while Lee exhibits an exquisite sense of timing as Arthur, constantly weaving elegant fables to keep his sister off-guard.
Director Maruyama displays little imagination in her staging, allowing the force and flow of scenes to dissipate in a series of awkward blackouts, pedestrian blocking and lackluster scene changes. Jian Hong Kuo’s barely adequate lighting design offers little assistance.
Rising above it all is the wonderfully balanced sweep of the play, which during its premiere in San Franciso was accorded this year’s Fund for New American Plays Award.