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Warrior Sisters of Wu

A person holding a sword in front of a person

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Nancy Ma, Kim Wuan (Photo: Russ Rowland)


Warrior Sisters of Wu


By Julia Polinsky


The tag line for Damon Chua's delightful play, Warrior Sisters of Wu, is "Romance of the Three Kingdoms meets Pride and Prejudice." Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a classic Chinese epic and billions of people have known and loved this novelization of Chinese history for centuries, although it's less known in the Western world. Pride and Prejudice is, of course, among the best-known romantic comedies in the West. These two stories and styles blend into a play as smooth as silk.


Written in the 1300s, Romance of the Three Kingdoms is set in the Han dynasty on the brink of war, almost 2,000 years ago. It has inspired many Chinese movies and TV shows. Romance of the Three Kingdoms may not be a super-famous work in the Western world, but it makes a solid framework for Warrior Sisters of Wu's love/hate story.


To make Warrior Sisters of Wu Westerner-friendly, Chua also took inspiration from Pride and Prejudice to create the chick lit aspects of this tale of two strong warrior women pitted against two military men. Yet as much as the play feels like a rom-com, it also speaks to changes in philosophy, power structures, law, and gender equality at the end of the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD).


Warrior Sisters of Wu centers on the daughters of the widowed court gentleman, Lord Qiao (Michael C. Liu). We meet Qing (Kim Wuan) and Wan (Nancy Ma) as they practice their deadly serious fighting skills. Qing and Wan are more than beautiful women; they are trained martial artists who wield their swords with deadly grace, use Kung Fu, and are ready to fight for their country in the coming war (fight choreography by Michael G. Chin). Qing is a Daoist; Wan follows the Confucian philosophy, a clash of ideas that reflects the history of the time.


A person in orange and yellow robe holding paper fans

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Michael C. Liu, Dinh James Doan (Photo: Russ Rowland)


Lord Qiao has no sons, and his heir, Cousin Xie (Dinh James Doan), a vulgar social climber, comes to gloat over his soon-to-be property. He offers to marry the elder daughter, Qing, because he wants at least 10 heirs. We who have met Qing know this is unlikely-to-impossible. She's a warrior woman, and nothing but another warrior will match her.


Younger Sister Wan is more happily suited to her suitor, Zhou Yu, a general in the army. His best friend, General Sun Ce, clashes with Qing, emotionally, figuratively, and literally, sword on sword. It's a violent meet-cute but works out, eventually.

A person and person in traditional clothing holding swords

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David Lee Huynh, Kim Wuan (Photo: Russ Rowland)


Much is made of the Qiao sisters being the equals, if not the equivalents, of the men of their time. There's a duel of wits, as well as the sword fight; humiliation; passion; and the drive to understanding and love. In the end the heroine gets the guy, but not without more terrific live fight scenes.


The Pan Asian Rep's production makes the most of the spare space at the A.R.T/NY Mezzanine Theatre. Bare bones it may be, but director Jeff Liu does a lot with the alley-style performance space with a few rows of seats on either side. Gorgeous projections (Gregory Casparian) superb costumes (Karen Boyer) and minimalist set design (Sheryl Liu) beautifully evoke the Han Dynasty.


The author writes with language that makes this story completely accessible to a contemporary audience. Considering that Qing and Wan are popular avatars in the

"Dynasty Warriors" videogame series, having a modern take on this ancient boy-meets-girl story feels like it brings this gamer reference into the theater, and is refreshing and modern.


A brief scene at the end of Act 2 explains some of the history and how it's playing out over time, then after the cast addresses the audience, they demonstrate their beautiful, elegant sword exercises.


A group of people on a stage

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Vin Kridakorn, Kim Wuan, David Lee Huynh, Nancy Ma, Dinh James Doan (Photo: Russ Rowland)


The sword-wielding Wu sisters will charm you as they do those around them in this romantic, female-forward re-telling of part of the Three Kingdoms saga. Happy Year of the Dragon!


Warrior Sisters of Wu

At A.R.T./NY

502 W 53rd St.

Tuesday-Saturday at 7; Saturday and Sunday at 2:30