By David Walters

Romance of the Three Kingdoms, from which Warrior Sisters of Wu was distilled, is an epic historical novel of the hundred years between 184AD and 280AD with hundreds of characters and numerous subplots. It is considered one of the greatest classical Chinese novels of all time.

Playwright Damon Chua took on the unenviable challenge of devising a play about it. Not wanting to do Peter Brook‘s 9-hour Mahabharata, he ended up pulling two minor sub-plot characters from the work and artfully crafted them into a delightful Taming of the Shrew type story set against the rich history contained in the novel.

Two sisters, Wan (Nancy Ma) and Qing (Kim Wuan), have been training in swordsmanship and fighting techniques with General Zhou Yu (Vin Kridakorn) as well as reading to improve their minds (quite unfeminine skills both then and now). They have become quite good with their expert training. War is inevitable as the Han Dynasty has devolved and several rival leaders seek to fill that void. Not wanting to leave her behind Zhou Yu professes his love for Wan and they decide to marry so that she can travel with him and support him in battle. It’s a little awkward as Wan is the younger sister and tradition states that marriages should happen in age order. Older sister Qing has turned down multiple suitors and most wishes to fight for her homeland declaring that she would also like to go along, not as support though, but to fight next to the men. In order to prove her metal, Qing insists on fighting their army’s best warrior, General Sun Ce (David Lee Huynh). Their fighting (both sword and hand-to-hand, wonderfully choreographed by Michael G. Chin) leads to Sun Ce developing a respect for not only Qing’s fighting skills, but also her mind as they debate Confucianism and Daoism.

Taking a page from Pride and Prejudice, Chua has created a charming and funny battle of the sexes steeped in the societal changes that were going on in China around 200AD. It’s a delightful evening of theater that both entertains and educates.

Pan Asian Repertory Theatre presents Warrior Sisters of Wu, written by Damon Chua and directed by Jeff Liu.

Cast: Michael C. Liu, Dinh James Doan, Nancy Ma, Kim Wuan, Vin Kridakorn, and David Lee Huynh.

Set design by Sheryl Liu, costumes by Karen Boyer, Lighting design by Ayumu Poe Saegusa, sound design by Da Xu, and fight choreography by Michael G. Chin.

The show runs approximately 100 minutes plus one 10-minute intermission.

Performances run through March 10, 2024, at the Mezzanine Theatre at A.R.T/New York Theatres (502 W 53rd St, Manhattan). Tickets are currently on sale at www.panasianrep.org.

If this review piqued your interest, you might also be piqued by one of the following The Front Row Center reviews: South, for all the women who thought they were Mad, and Passage.