from Kristin Brey
One of the most important survival skills we have adapted as comprehensive thinking and feeling beings is the innate ability to “cope”. The psychological definition of coping is the process of managing taxing circumstances, expending effort to solve personal and interpersonal problems, and seeking “to master, minimize, reduce or tolerate stress”. I came away from Monday night’s reading of “I’m speaking to you Chinese” feeling as though it was an honest reflection of the numerous ways in which humans “cope” with their own tragedies and heartaches.
Whether is was memories of the holocaust, feuding family members, racism, or unattainable love, we watched each character seek a way to minimize their own pain and attempt to live the best life they could. Martha coped by remembering the dead; Carola coped by imagining lavish fantasies, Avraham coped by turning to communist politics; Mireleh coped by running away from her family; and Shimon coped by adopting a sick woman who had only ever been a cold bitter racist towards him.
It is too obvious and simplistic of a statement to say that in this play the characters’ humanity was portrayed through their coping. The concept in this play that I really think highlighted each characters’ humanity was that almost every character’s method of coping led them to behave in less than admirable ways. While I could sympathize with each character, I found it hard to really like any of them, besides Shimon. I found Martha to be miserably negative; Carola to be charismatically self-serving and Avraham to be timidly accommodating. Mireleh as a young woman was easier to have sympathy for since she was only a teenager, but an older Miri was also burdened with enough sadness to create a tainted woman with less than desirable coping mechanisms.
When the theme of “coping” really came to fruition for me though, was when Shimon, the Iraqi real estate agent explained his side of the story. He explained how Miri’s family and their home seemed like paradise. How he was in love with Mireleh. How her and her mother’s racism had made him feel less than them. How he adopted Martha after Avraham died and Mireleh ran away. His monologue at the end of the play served as such a prominent reminder of how, through our coping, we get wrapped up in the reality we create for ourselves and forget to acknowledge other people’s realities. It is hard to get past tragedy and pain, but I felt that this show played as a good reminder to not let our pain and our coping to consume the rest of our lives.