With Four Successful Plays to His Credit, David Henry Hwang Is Scaling the Great Wall of Fame

updated 01/09/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/09/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

David Henry Hwang wears Kenzo pants and listens to a Sony Walkman. Hwang's pants and personal stereo are appropriate since this Chinese-American playwright, who's 26 and "hugely gifted," according to the New York Times, has set his latest work in Japan.

Called Sound and Beauty, the show just finished a two-month off-Broadway run. The play marked a departure for Hwang, whose first three works were about Chinese immigrants adapting to America. The first, FOB, produced in 1980, won Hwang a Village Voice Obie for best play. (The title stands for Fresh Off the Boat, a derogatory term assimilated Chinese-Americans use for recent immigrants.) "I'm in a state of transition right now," says Hwang. "My first writing was mostly about family and the things closest to me. I began to be categorized as a Chinese-American writer."

Although now a resident of New York's Greenwich Village, Hwang was born and raised in San Gabriel, a Los Angeles suburb. His father is a bank president, his mother a piano teacher. Hwang was a standout debater in high school and planned to be a lawyer. But at Stanford University Hwang saw a production of Arthur Kopit's Indians and says, "I just got the notion I could write plays."

Write them he did. Between classes and on weekends, Hwang dashed off a half dozen (as-yet-unproduced) plays before writing FOB, which was performed by students in his dorm. Hwang's parents, who were less than thrilled with his new career choice, came to the show. "Dad cried," reports David, "and ever since they've been supportive." A year later FOB opened to favorable reviews in New York, followed by The Dance and the Railroad and Family Devotions.

Sound and Beauty is set in Japan, but Hwang's next effort, a musical he co-wrote with Lenore Kletter, is quintessential American; it's called Five Guys Named Moe.

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