In Mandarin with English subtitles

Yangtze Repertory Theatre's 20th anniversary production is "The Empress Dowager," a three-act epic examining 40 years of the reign of the Manchu empress who ruled China from behind the throne. It recounts the perilous journey of an ancient kingdom seeking a place in the modern world. The play is written and directed by Joanna Chan, Artistic Director, and will be performed by a cast of 25 in Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles. Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., will present the piece May 31 to June 23.

This play depicts the life of Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), who reigned, directly and indirectly, through the twilight of the Manchu Dynasty. The Manchu emperors until the end of the 18th century, unlike those of the Ming dynasty, were conscientious and hardworking men of great vision and learning. The long reign of Emperor Kang Xi (1654-1722) and Qian Long (1736-1795) not only brought relative stability to the land, but also brought the regions of Manchuria, Mongolia, Xin Jiang, Tibet and Taiwan under the rule of the central government, making China four times as large as that of the previous dynasty. However, the world of the 18th century no longer allowed the Chinese Empire to reign supreme. In America, democracy found its embodiment in the Declaration of Independence. In Europe, the Industrial Revolution and the concept of Human Rights were born. The 19th century further saw the birth of new ideologies and social structures and the invention of telecommunications, the X-ray, typewriter and phonograph. In 1867, on the doorstep of China, Japan made its miraculous transformation from a feudal state to a democratic monarchy. China was thus forced to embark on a perilous journey in search of its new identity.

"The Empress Dowager" traces the story of a fifteen-year-old girl from a noble Manchu family who rose to power and ruled China from behind the throne through this period, for over four decades in the latter part of the 19th century. It is also the story of a proud and self-sufficient people in search of their place in the contemporary world: a struggle mixed with curiosity, admiration, humiliation, shock and indignation that continues until the present day. For more information, please read the foreword to the play at

Yenn Teoh (in Chinese: KarYan Zhang) heads a cast of 25 as Empress Dowager Cixi. She is a Malaysian stage and film star of note. Other key roles are played by Mary Lao as the East Empress, Arthur Lai as Prince Gong, Nicholas Culbertson as Emperor XiangFeng, Charles Pang as Emperor GuangXu, Ying Ying Li as Emperor TongZhi, Andrew Hsu as Prime Minister Su Shun, ZiLong Pu as Tan SiTong and Joanne Liu as the elder Empress Dowager.

The ensemble also includes Charis Chu, Kimberly DiPersia, Bill Engst, Terrance Epps, Kristen Hung, Michelle Kaszuba, RG Lacandola, Carlos Long, Wing Ma, Wilson Pok, Sheila Romo, Karen Stefano, Xi Ren Wang, Lewis Welt, Sheldon You and Lu Zhao.

Set design is by K.K. Wong. Lighting design is by Catherine Lee. Costume Design is by Harrison Xu and Yoki Lai. An original score is by Sam Su.

Yenn Teoh (in Chinese: KarYan Zhang), who plays Empress Dowager Cixi, is a Malaysian Chinese acting star whose performing career began during her high school years. She has appeared in numerous Malaysian TV series and films including one that was shot and produced in California in 2000, "See You Out of Edge of Town," which was exhibited in the 7th Shanghai International Film Festival. In 2003, she shifted her career from on-camera to stage work, calling it more rewarding and satisfying. She was named Best Leading Actress in the 2004 Malaysian Best Stage Play Awards for a role in which she played six distinct female characters in a 90 minute monologue, portraying a sloppy housewife, a sexy English woman, a Shanghai singer from a bygone era, an electrifying Catwoman, a Japanese student and a career woman. She retired briefly from performing in 2005 after the death of her mother, devoting herself to charity work and establishing a performing arts school dedicated to local talent. She made a successful comeback in 2010. Since then, she has been highly selective in her roles, accepting only multifaceted characters and challenging parts. In 2010, she was awarded Best Actress in the Malaysian CHT Awards, which are bestowed every few years to outstanding Malaysians in different fields, including the performing arts. Her latest work is a Malaysian miniseries about a woman trapped in her fantasies.

Joanna Chan developed "The Empress Dowager" in 1981 with the Four Seas Players in Chinatown, which she co-founded in 1970 and led as artistic director until 1992. Hong Kong Repertory Theatre produced the play's professional debut in 1983, directed by Chan. She co-founded Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America ( in 1992 to produce productions of works for and by Asian artists. Since then, the company has become New York's most significant entry point for dramatic works from Chinese-speaking countries and a place of collaboration for artists from various parts of Asia. Chan's own plays include the political and controversial drama, "The Soongs: By Dreams Betrayed," which she will direct next year for Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, opening January 4, 2014 at the Grand Theatre at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Her "One Family One Child One Door," a black comedy on the human cost of China's one-child policy, premiered in 2001, was revived twice and was a finalist in the Jane Chambers Playwriting Contest. Her 1998 drama, "Crown Ourselves With Roses," was selected as one of 23 most significant works in Chinese theater in the past 100 years for "An Anthology of Modern Chinese Drama" published by Columbia University Press in 2011. An English version of her 1985 drama, "Before the Dawn-Wind Rises," was included in "An Oxford Anthology of Chinese Contemporary Drama" in 1997. She was commissioned by Hong Kong Repertory Theatre to write and direct "The Empress of China," based on the first encounter of the American and the Chinese people in 1786, which received its premiere in Hong Kong in January 2011, followed by a New York production in June 2011.

The nearly 70 productions Chan has directed include her own works and classics. Reviewing Chan's "Oedipus Rex" at Sing Sing in 2006, Michael Millius wrote in the (Bedford, NY) Record-Review, "You might think I’d have seen some great theater over the years with my aunt, Michael Strange being married to John Barrymore, or my work with Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber as creative director of MCA Music. But still, even after all that, and more than half a century of theatergoing, I was not prepared for the experience of seeing a performance of "Oedipus Rex" by inmates at Sing Sing prison. When written by Sophocles circa 430 B.C. (and considered by the ancient Greeks to be his best work), the author couldn’t have imagined how his play would enjoy one of its finest hours 2,500 years later, being rendered by inmates in a maximum-security prison."

Theater for the New City has been home to many of Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America's milestone productions, including its 1997 presentation of "Between Life and Death," written and directed by Gao XingJian, the 2000 Nobel laureate in literature.

This program is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the suport of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York Legislature. It is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.



Wednesday - Saturday, May 31 - June 23

Wednesday - Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 3pm

All Seats $30 (Friday, Saturday and Sunday Only)

$25 Students & Seniors (Friday, Saturday and Sunday Only)

Wednesday & Thursday: Pay-What-You-Can (Available at the Box Office Only)

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Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue
(between 9th and 10th Streets)
New York, NY 10003
Telephone: (212) 254-1109
Fax: (212) 979-6570


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