David Henry Hwang

David Henry Hwang

Playwright, Librettist


David Henry Hwang is an American playwright, librettist, and screenwriter, as well as a theater professor. Hilton Als of the New Yorker has described him as "the most successful Chinese-American playwright this country has produced."

He was born in Los Angeles, California to Henry Yuan Hwang, a banker, and Dorothy Hwang, a piano teacher. The oldest of three children, he has two younger sisters. He received a Bachelor's degree in English from Stanford University and attended the Yale School of Drama, taking literature classes. He left once workshopping of new plays began since he already had a play on in New York. His first play was produced at the Okada House dormitory at Stanford after he briefly studied playwriting with Sam Shepard and María Irene Fornés.

Hwang's early plays concerned the role of the Chinese American and Asian American in the modern day world. His first play, the Obie Award-winning FOB, depicts the contrasts and conflicts between established Asian Americans and "Fresh Off the Boat" newcomer immigrants. The play was developed by the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center and premiered in 1980 Off-Broadway at the Joseph Papp Public Theater. Papp went on to produce four more of Hwang's plays, including the Pulitzer Prize-nominated drama The Dance and the Railroad, which tells the story of a former Chinese opera star working as a coolie laborer in the nineteenth century, and the Drama Desk Award-nominated Family Devotions, a darkly comic take on the effects of Western religion on a Chinese family. Those three plays added up to a "Trilogy of Chinese America" as the author described.

After this, Papp also produced the show Sound and Beauty, the omnibus title to two Hwang one-act plays set in Japan. At this time, Hwang started to work on projects for the small screen. A television movie, Blind Alleys, written by Hwang and Frederic Kimball and starring Pat Morita and Cloris Leachman, was produced in 1985 and followed a television version of The Dance and the Railroad.

His next play Rich Relations, was his first full-length to feature non-Asian characters. It premiered at the Second Stage Theatre in New York and, though not a success, did prepare him for his work on his best-known play, M. Butterfly, for which he won a Tony Award, the Drama Desk Award, the John Gassner Award, and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play. It was also his second play to be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play is a deconstruction of Giacomo Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly shedding light on news reports of the relationship between a French diplomat, Bernard Boursicot, and Shi Pei Pu, a male Chinese opera singer who purportedly convinced Boursicot that he was a woman throughout their twenty-year relationship. The play premiered on Broadway in 1988 and made Hwang the first Asian American to win the Tony Award for Best Play.

Shows by David Henry Hwang


At the Nile’s edge, the enslaved Nubian princess, Aida becomes romantically entangled with the Egyptian captain, Radames, who is betrothed to the Pharaoh’s daughter, Amneris. As their forbidden love grows deeper, Aida is forc... read more

Bondage, a one-act play set in an S&M parlor in Los Angeles, explores the relationship between Terri, the dominatrix, and Mark, her submissive. The two are dressed from head-to-toe in leather, so the audience cannot see thei... read more

An American businessman named Daniel Cavanaugh travels to China in the hopes of scoring a contract for his family’s sign-making business. Ready to tackle the obvious struggles that can come from an American doing business in... read more

Set in 1867 in California, ‘The Dance and the Railroad’ tells the story of two Chinese laborers and marks a historical episode in American history. The play consists of a series of encounters between the two men as they wait... read more

F.O.B. is another of David Henry Hwang's explorations of what it is like to be Chinese in America. Dale is second-generation Chinese and very Americanized. He introduces the notion of F.O.B. to the audience in a monologue... read more

Family Devotions, set in contemporary Los Angeles, is a farce that explores the notions of cultural authenticity. Ama and Popo are two devoutly Christian sisters living in luxury in contemporary L.A. They eagerly await the v... read more

Set in the late 1950s, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song centers on naive immigrant, Mei-Li, who arrives in San Francisco's Chinatown, after fleeing communist China. The young refugee is befriended by Wang, who is st... read more

The Golden Child tells the story of Andrew Kwong's ancestors, a Chinese family dealing with the onslaught of Western culture, particularly Christianity, in 1918. The story is framed by Andrew and his grandmother's ghost, who... read more

The play is David Hwang's adaptation of Yasunari Kawabata's novel, House of the Sleeping Beauties. The playwright imagines how the novelist might have been inspired to write his book. In the play, Kawabata wants to visit a... read more

M. Butterfly tells the story of a French diplomat posted in China, Rene Gallimard, who is brought to ruin and, eventually, convicted for espionage, after a twenty-year affair with a Beijing Opera diva. The diva, citing her C... read more

Rich Relations is David Hwang's second play about evangelical Christianity and his first with a white, not Asian, cast. The play centers on a wealthy, materialistic, evangelical Christian family, the Orrs, who live in L.A.... read more

The Sound of a Voice is a fable about a samurai who shows up at the house of a woman who lives deep in the woods. She asks him in for tea, and he ends up staying for weeks. The play is very minimalist. some scenes consist... read more

A shipwreck leaves an infant orphaned on the West African shore. The helpless baby is taken under the protection of a gorilla tribe and becomes part of their family. When he eventually encounters his first human – Jane Porter... read more

The one-act play Trying to Find Chinatown describes an encounter between Benjamin, an ethnic Caucasian who considers himself Asian, and Ronnie, an ethnic Asian who knows little about his Asian heritage. Benjamin, adopted into... read more

Yellow Face is David Henry Hwang's self-mocking drama about his reaction to the casting of caucasian actor Jonathan Pryce as a Eurasian character in his Broadway play, M. Butterfly. Hwang was loudly critical of the casting c... read more


Show Categories
Musical, Play
Drama, Dark Comedy, Comedy