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Warrior Sisters of Wu

Inspired by the 15th century Chinese classic "Romance of the Three Kingdom" as well as Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," Damon Chua's play is both exciting and romantic including both vigorous swordfights and tender love scenes.

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Nancy Ma, Michael C. Liu and Kim Wuan in a scene from the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre’s production of Damon Chua’s “Warrior Sisters of Wu” at A.R.T./New York Mezzanine Theatre (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

[avatar user=”Victor Gluck” size=”96″ align=”left”] Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief[/avatar]

Inspired by 20th century film and video games based on the classic Chinese novel of the 15th century, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Damon Chua’s delightful and engrossing Warrior Sisters of Wu takes two minor female characters and puts them center stage. Using the framework of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice with the two best characters, male and female, taking an instant dislike to each other but eventually coming to see each other’s good traits, Warrior Sisters of Wu takes place at the end of the Chinese Han Dynasty in 200 A.D. when war is certain and society is changing.

Stylishly directed by Jeff Liu for the Pan-Asian Repertory Theatre with top-notch fight choreography by Michael G. Chin, the play is both exciting and romantic including both vigorous swordfights and tender love scenes. Like Mr. Bennett in Austin’s novel, Lord Qiao has a problem: having only daughters, his estate is entailed to his next male heir, the indolent Cousin Xie who comes to visit in order to see about marrying either sister Wan or Qing, who are accomplished swordswomen. However, like Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, Xie is an obnoxious social climber and does not interest either sister, Wan who is engaged to General Zhou Yu in a love match, nor Qing who has not found anyone who is her equal.

David Lee Huynh and Kim Wuan in a scene from the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre’s production of Damon Chua’s “Warrior Sisters of Wu” at A.R.T./New York Mezzanine Theatre (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

While Lord Qiao approves of the marriage of Wan and Zhou Yu, he would like to see Qing, his eldest daughter settled first. The happy couple decides to play matchmaker with Zhou Yu’s companion general Sun Ce but he and Qing take an instant dislike to each other, going so far as to have a sword fight that Qing wins to Sun Ce’s dismay. To complicate things further, Zhou Yu wishes to work out with the all-male army, an event never heard of before, but as a joke Sun Ce agrees to permit it only to humiliate her in front of his men. Eventually, like Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, the two come to see each other’s true quality.

While Sheryl Liu’s minimalist setting (with projection design around the side walls of the theater by Gregory Casparian) serves only as a backdrop for the story, it is Karen Boyer’s beautiful costumes with each character in a different color silk that creates the spectacular visuals: Lord Qiao in yellow, Cousin Xie in orange, Wan in green, Qing in red, Zhou Yu in sky blue and white, and Sun Ce in black and silver. Chin’s fight choreography between Qing and General Sun Ce is stirring and rousing, making the audience worry for the actors’ safety, as well as the dramatic outcome. The delicate love scenes are mainly handled by the adept Nancy Ma’s Wan and Vin Kridakorn’s General Zhou Yu.

Vin Kridakorn and Nancy Ma in a scene from the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre’s production of Damon Chua’s “Warrior Sisters of Wu” at A.R.T./New York Mezzanine Theatre (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

The two sets of men and women make an interesting contrast. Nancy Ma is even tempered as younger sister Wan while Kim Wuan’s Qing is feisty and quick to fly off the handle. So too Vin Kridakorn and David Lee Huynh make a strong contrast as the two brother generals: Kridakorn as the easy going Zhou Yu (similar to Charles Bingley in Pride and Prejudice) and Huynh as the prickly, easy to take offense Sun Ce. As the father of the two young women, Michael C. Liu is suitably melancholy and somber as Lord Qiao who worries about his daughters’ futures. Dinh James Doan (who later appears as the placid Tea Merchant) is comic as the objectionable and self-involved Cousin Xie who the father finds as offensive as his daughters do.

In Warrior Sisters of Wu, Damon Chua who has also had his Film Chinois and The Emperor’s Nightingale presented by Pan Asian Repertory has tred a fine line between life in 15th century China and modern independent feminism. Jeff Liu’s direction is always smooth and silken while Michael G. Chin’s fight choreography with its clashing swordfights always holds us rapt. Warrior Sisters of Wu is an engrossing story using classic tropes for both romantic comedies and adventure-warfare tales. This Pan Asian Repertory production is highly successful at bringing to life a 15th century story for contemporary audiences.

Warrior Sisters of Wu (through March 10, 2024)

Pan Asian Repertory Theatre

Michael C. Liu and Dinh James Doan in a scene from the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre’s production of Damon Chua’s “Warrior Sisters of Wu” at A.R.T./New York Mezzanine Theatre (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

A.R.T./New York Mezzanine Theatre, 502 W. 53rd Street, 2nd Floor, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.panasianrep.org/wsw

Running time: one hour and 55 minutes including one intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (990 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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