Down-and-out Brooklynite Malcolm (Matt Dellapina) heads to Beijing on the invitation of his college buddy Da Wei (also known as David, and played by Nelson Lee). There, he meets English tutor Xiao Mei (Li Jun Li), falls in love with her, and ultimately falls prey to the cynicism that comes hand in hand with believing everybody else wants a piece of your country. Ultimately, Malcolm leaves a burdgeoning romance thanks to a lack of faith in his lover’s motives.
Writer Zayd Dohrn has a good grip on pacing and dialogue, but Outside People disappoints in its ending. Throughout the play, Dohrn’s characters bring up intriguing, relevant, incredible things about the differences between China and the West, but Malcolm’s aimlessness in a sea of purposeful, driven souls – and his inability to grow as a character – ultimately suck the drama out of the play.
Up to the last moment, this is a well-paced, thematically dense piece that is accessible to a general audience. The same themes being discussed in David Henry Hwangs “Chinglish” (currently on Broadway) are explored here – questions of language, heritage and intermixing cultures. But writer Zayd Dohrn does the audience – and the play – a disservice by the end of the story, serving ambiguity over commentary with the final image of the play. Dohrn makes some complex assertions and raises intriguing points, but I’m not sure Outside People is worth the price of a full-cost ticket.