casting notice for the shanghai gesture

This casting breakdown, for a play called The Shanghai Gesture going up in New York, was recently passed along to me. I don't know much about this production, but judging from the characters and their descriptions, it sounds like some crazy kind of exotic orientalist fantasy. Check it out:

Producers: Sabra Jones
Director: Bob Kalfin
1st rehearsal: March 24, 2009
1st Preview: April 21, 2009
Opening date: April 26th


[MOTHER GOD DAMN] (CAST) Seeking Understudy and possible future replacement. 40's. A former Manchu Princess of Tung Kow, of the great house of Chi-Yan-Ko. Betrayed when she was 20 by a British lover who sold her into brutal sexual slavery, she is now, in 1928, the Madame of the largest most luxurious, most cosmopolitan and stylistically most chic bordello in the world. An internationally recognized beauty who has toured the world, Mother God Damn was painted by Sargent and was a well-known figure in the salons of Europe. Fluently in command of European as well as Asian languages, Madam now has an international clientele of all the top industrial and political players in the foreign and Chinese community. Proud, sensual, mercurial, she has recreated herself into the most powerful and wealthiest woman in Shanghai. Alternately playful and capricious, as well as commanding (sometimes even fearful), she has a distinct sense of humor. With a mastery of the use of theater; she uses her effects to the hilt. Underneath all this is a vulnerable, deeply hurt and deeply wronged woman who has lived and patiently waited twenty years for her moment of revenge and poetic justice.

Seeking Principals and Understudies:

[CAESAR HAWKINS] Early 30's to early 40's. Oxford educated. A tall fair-haired young Englishman, a little down at the heels in appearance. A good man at heart; a somewhat wasted opium addict. Dependant upon her, Hawkins is genuinely devoted to serving his Mistress, Mother Goddam in her luxurious bordello. Her scribe as well as jack of all trades, he is discreet, caring, respectful and considerate. It is clear she can trust him when she needs to turn to someone for help, revealing more of herself to him than she ever would to anyone else. There is something a bit sad about CAESAR HAWKINS.

[LIN CHI] An ancient Chinese man. 'The Mole. Chief Clerk of the establishment. He is a wizened, shrimpish little man with a crooked spine and gleaming eyes behind Babu spectacles. LIN CHI has been with Mother Goddam for nearly 20 years, and knows how she operates. He serves well the woman he thinks he knows, without really knowing her. [Note: Doubles in other roles].

[PRINCE OSHIMA] Early 30's. A young Japanese. Tall and aristocratic in appearance and as faultlessly dressed for the morning as Bond Street can make him. He carries a walking stick and a soft felt hat.' He speaks British English, with only a slight trace of accent. Oxford educated, he is the Ex-Attache to Pekin from Japan. He was not long in diplomatic service - it did not suit him. OSHIMA is what one might call a Japanese 'Playboy' [referred to as a 'Paris Japanese.'] This man's deeds always concern love matters. He is a person of no morals. Elegant, extremely handsome and a nee'r do well. A hedonist with all the prejudices of his class, he was, in earlier days, Mother Goddam's 'pet.'

[POPPY] 20's. Guy Charteris' daughter. 'Exquisite as a summer morning. Everything about her spells youth and 'beaute de diable.' She has the beautiful modulated voice of the well-bred English girl. She is small, slender, willowy and graceful. Yet there is an alien something in her brunette beauty.' The eventual revelation of her Eurasian mixed blood is a total surprise to both her and her father]. Sir Guy's wife died in childbirth, POPPY was brought up by her father to be a proper English young lady. Motherless, the girl grew rebellious, chafing against the conventions and hypocrisy of her social class. Under POPPY's facade, there lurks a defiant monster: a completely out of control alcohol and opium addict, and a self-confessed nymphomaniac. Shameless, rebellious, totally self-indulgent, this young woman has frightening power when unleashed; a virago when thwarted.

[MANDARIN KOO LOT FOO] 50's and up. Ex-Envoy to Russia. The Great Jade King. A man of great wealth. 'He is a tall imposing Chinaman with impressive white moustaches and goatee. He is dressed most elegantly, in rich sober silks. On his head he wears the hat and peacock feather of rank and distinction.' [Think of a Chinese Sidney Greenstreet ' a la 'Casablanca']

[SIR GUY CHARTERIS] mid-40's. Taipan of the British China Trading Company. An Englishman who made his fortune in the Orient. 'A tall distinguished Englishman, immaculate in appearance, with great charm of manner. He is graceful, easy, polished and not altogether unaware of it.' A ladies-man, and an opportunist who bought his way in. Ultimately, a man with no sense of moral responsibility. A betrayer, with the prejudices and hypocrisy of the worst of his class. A deeply shallow man.

[CREEK SIDE MARY] late 40's-50's. A cockney wharf rat. Keeper of a slum brothel catering to 'sea folk' down on the docks. Coarse, with a loud voice, she is 'a nightmare of a woman ' foul, ragged, drunken, broken-toothed, bleary-eyed, shapeless.' [Note: Doubles in other roles].

[SIR JOHN BLESSINGTON] 50's-60's. Port Judge of Shanghai. Pink-faced, portly and bland. He and his wife make up an extremely dignified English couple.

[LADY BLESSINGTON] 50's-60's ' portly, and dowdily impressive. [Note: Doubles as young girl].

[MONS. LE COMTE DE MICHOT] 50's-60's. 'Number One of the Bank of Europe-Asia.' 'Bewhiskered 'a la Napoleon', he and his wife are a French couple of extremely rich and fastidious appearance.'

[MM. LE COMTESSE DE MICHOT] 40's-50's. She is 'somewhat small, mouselike and malicious but very smartly dressed. [Note: Doubles as girl]

[MR. DUDLEY GREGORY] mid-20's, early 30's. Number One of the United States Oil Company. He and his wife make up a youngish and alert American couple.

[MRS. GREGORY] 20's ' Extremely fashionable and pretty. [Doubles as girl].

[DON QUEREBO D'ACHUNA] mid 40's-50's. Charge d' Affairs of Latin America; a Bolivian diplomat. 'Tall and foreign looking, with many orders across his shirt front.'

[DONNA QUEREBRO D'ACHUNA] late 30's, [or perhaps indeterminately older]. A climber. When she looses her 'Spanish' accent, she might sound like Jean Harlowe, revealing her origins as 'Minnie Baxter'. [Doubles as girl].

[CHO TSI] Older Chinese Woman. Mother Goddam's 'Amah' - her personal servant. [Note: Doubles as girl, other roles].

[TSA] 30's-50's. A very large imposing Chinese man; the Eunuch who maintains order in Mother Goddam's brothel. [Note: Doubles in other roles].

[NI PAU (LOST PETAL)] 20. Delicate, very fair and blonde. Exquisite, though dressed in horrid rags. Note: May appear as though she were nude, when put on exhibition to be auctioned off later in the play.
Who dreams up this kind of stuff? If I'm not mistaken, the production is a revival (re-imagining?) of a play that originally ran on Broadway in the 1920s, and was eventually made into a film. Somebody's mad opium haze fantasy of the Orient. Neither of these sound like they were very good the first time around. But hey, eighty years later, there always seems to be more room for more dragon ladies, gambling dens, generally illicit Asian activity in fiction. That's racist! (Thanks, Nick.)

angry archive