Written in 1918 and last produced in New York on Broadway in l926, The Shanghai Gesture is a 100-year-old historic American play that has always been controversial for its bold confrontation of still-relevant issues. For the first time in a full production, it will star an ethnically correct actress, Tina Chen, playing the lead role of Mother Goddam. Under the direction of Robert Kalfin, The Shanghai Gesture confronts issues of women's rights, the sex trade, child abuse/slavery, and what happens when one country imposes its culture upon another.
It takes place in China in the roaring twenties when Shanghai was a truly cosmopolitan city filled with Russian refugees, its people exploited by opium traders and adventurers from all over Europe and Great Britain, and visited by American entrepreneurs. Played by Tina Chen, Mother Goddam is a Manchu princess shamed and discarded by an aristocratic English merchant and sold into sex slavery who can never return to her home. A survivor, she has risen to great power and reputation within a complex society where she runs an elegant brothel frequented by governors, mandarins, and princes who chose amongst women who are beautiful and tastefully dressed. Tonight there is great excitement, for she is having a dinner party - and society folk, the British and other European aristocrats and their wives are coming to dinner. What transpires during the dinner is hypnotic, humorous, erotic, terrifying, shocking, surprising, sad, and utterly fascinating. Many secrets - those of each guest - are revealed, and the ultimate secrets - those of Sir Guy Charteris - literally change lives. Even Mother Goddam must face an unanticipated revelation of a secret of her own.