“American Jade,” like its star, is tough and beautiful

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Jodi Long sitting on a chair and talking
'American Jade' Jodi Long photo by Joan Marcus

A loving portrayal of an Asian-American show-biz family

Jodi Long sitting on a chair and smiling
‘American Jade’ Jodi Long photo by Joan Marcus

Actress Jodi Long, the first Asian-American woman to win an Emmy Award, turns her hand to creating an autobiographical one-woman show about her life, American Jade. The Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA opens its first full post-pandemic season with this play. It’s an unusual choice, but this heartfelt, engaging play pays off.

Long’s play is a combination of a loving yet clear-eyed reminiscence of her parents, Larry and Trudie Leung, entertainers in the 40s and 50s, and her search for more knowledge of her ancestors and thus herself. Although there were a few rough moments in the performance I attended, the play is genuinely heartwarming

The highlight of Larry and Trudy Leung’s career as an “exotic” vaudeville and cabaret act was a 1950 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. After Trudie retired from show business, Larry appeared in the musical Flower Drum Song both as a replacement on Broadway and in leading parts on the road. Jodi Long’s own acting career started at the age of 7 in the flop musical Nowhere to Go but Up and includes work on stage, screen, and television.

Under the direction of Eric Rosen, Long transitions smoothly from one anecdote to the next. She explores not only her genetic inheritance but also her emotional and professional “DNA”, the internal imprints made by her family experiences and her show business career. Long’s affection for and understanding of her parents shines through. She shifts easily into the personas of her father, her mother, other assorted family members, her mother’s post-divorce boyfriend “Uncle Quonnie”, and younger versions of herself. It is Uncle Quonnie who provides Long with a Chinese name, and the one he chooses is comprised of two words which translate to “American jade” – tough yet beautiful, reflecting Long’s physical appearance and indomitable spirit. Able accompaniment is supplied by composer/musician Yukio Tsuji, who performs onstage throughout the show.

Scenic designer Jack Magaw has created an open, multi-level set, enhanced by the lighting of Amanda Zieve. Scenic projections designed by Stivo Arnoczy and Stephanie Beattie give views of places Miss Long and her family lived, display posters of her parents’ appearances, and show a grainy video clip of her parents’ appearance on the Sullivan show.

American Jade is not the perfect play. However, it is a loving portrayal of a family and the sometimes funny, sometimes poignant life journey of actress and playwright Jodi Long. As such, it will provide you with an often moving experience in the theatre. If this appeals to you, you will not go wrong by attending a performance of American Jade.

American Jade is being presented by the Bucks County Playhouse through June 11th. For tickets and information, visit bcptheater.org or call (215) 862-2121.  Proof of vaccination is no longer required to enter the playhouse, but masks must be worn the entire time inside the building.