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The ubiquitous restaurant

Eric Sharp appears as Steve, an exchange student, in "Fresh Off the Boat." His arrival forces Grace (Meghan Kreidler) and Dale (Michael Sung-Ho) to look closer at themselves and their Chinesee-American heritage. See the play, which includes a meal, at 2 p.m. June 21 and 22 at Golden China in Red Wing.

By Ruth Nerhaugen, contributor

Red Wing is one of four stops on the Minnesota Chinese Restaurant Tour of “Fresh Off the Boat,” a play about Chinese immigration to the United States and the small towns where the immigrants found success operating Chinese restaurants.

Presented by Mu Performing Arts, the production has two parts: a “Tea Time” at 3 p.m. June 14 at the Goodhue County History Center, 1166 Oak St., and the play itself at 2 p.m. June 21 and 22 at the Golden China Restaurant, 3038 N. Service Drive.

People of all ages are invited to either or both events.

The first event, which is free and open to everyone, will be an interactive lecture involving members of the family that established Golden China. Linda Cheung said she was asked about her experiences coming to Red Wing. She and her husband, George Lam, will be present.

Eliza Rasheed, a Twin Cities educator, will lead the “Tea Time” presentation, according to Mu Performing Arts spokesman Eric Sharp, who also appears in the play. The focus will be on the history of Chinese immigration to the United States and specifically to Minnesota.

Goodhue County Historical Society Director Dustin Heckman said one of the reasons the society chose to partner with Mu on the project is because “This is a great way to show a different perspective on history.” He sees it as an opportunity to learn how these immigrants struggled, overcame challenges and adapted in order to be successful here.

The Sheldon Theatre is presenting the two performances of “Fresh Off the Boat” at Golden China. Tickets to that event are $5, but they include a Chinese buffet meal. Seating is limited, so reservations are required.

Mu artistic director Randy Reyes directs “Fresh Off the Boat,” an Obie Award-winning play by David Henry Hwang, whose credits also include Broadway’s “Chinglish” and “M. Butterfly.”

The play explores the relationships and conflicts between two young people who are American-born Chinese and a newcomer who is “fresh off the boat,” Sharp said. He appears in the play as Steve, an exchange student.

Two other Twin Cities actors, Meghan Kreidler and Michael Sung-Ho, appear as Grace and Dale. She is first generation and holds the customs of China in higher regard than her cousin Dale, who is second generation and fully American.

Steve’s arrival forces them to confront conflicting feelings about America, China and themselves; the play explores both conflicts and similarities between the Chinese-Americans and the newcomer.

Hwang set the play in a Chinese restaurant during the 1980s. The logistics of performing there are interesting, Sharp noted, because there is no stage, and the actors interact with diners who are eating their meals.

During the show, which lasts about an hour, the “audience” also will learn more about the Chinese immigration story from the Gold Rush days to the present.

“Fresh Off the Boat” is being performed this weekend in a Chinese restaurant in New York Mills, then in North Mankato, Red Wing and Rochester restaurants. The tour is funded by the Minnesota State Arts Board.

Purpose of the project, according to Reyes, is to share the stories and raise the awareness of the Chinese immigrants who thrive in communities across the state.

“If you travel to small towns across Minnesota,” the director pointed out, “you will notice a peculiarity about their restaurant offerings, something that you wouldn’t necessarily expect.

“In these small towns with very little cultural diversity, if any, there is always a Chinese restaurant. This brought up questions for me about who owns these restaurants, how did they end up in the middle of Minnesota, and how many people living in these towns and eating in these restaurants actually know their stories?”

The opportunity to take Hwang’s play on tour became an opportunity to find out.

Hwang liked the idea of the tour. “Like many Chinese of my generation, I had relatives in the restaurant business,” he said, “and this play was written in part as a tribute to their spirit.

“Performing it now in those restaurants themselves brings the journey of this play back full circle. I hope everyone enjoys the show; I know they will enjoy the food.”

No reservations are required for “Tea Time” at the history center. Tickets to the Golden China performance are available at the Sheldon. 

If you go …

Who: Mu Performing Arts

What: Chinese Restaurant Tour of “Fresh Off the Boat”

Tea Time: 3-4 p.m. June 14, Goodhue County History Center, 1166 Oak St.; free

Play: 2 p.m. June 21 and 22 at Golden China Restaurant, 3038 N. Service Drive; $5 including buffet

Reservations: Sheldon Theatre, 651-388-8700