Chapters of a Floating Life

By Clarence Coo    

Directed by Jennifer Chang

Lead sponsors Nancy & Bill Grove
Producing sponsors Rae & Bill Saltzstein


It’s the Second World War and two couples from China are trying to make ends meet in New York City. One husband and wife live uptown, obsessed with a past of poetry, painting, and gardens. The other two face the day-to-day reality of keeping a Chinatown restaurant in business. Their worlds, once separated by class and education, converge when the two women find each other in Central Park and fall under the spell of the Chinese language.

Playwright Statement

When I lived in Beijing, I came upon a translation of a book written in the early 19th century called Six Chapters of a Floating Life. This collection of autobiographical essays was written by a government official who was obsessed with poetry and gardening, and who lost his wife after she fell in love with a woman.

The English translation was created by another Chinese scholar, one who lived in the 20th century and who himself had an interesting life—he had tried (and failed) to design a mass-producible Chinese typewriter after he moved to the US. The stories of these two literary men fascinated me and I ended up with this play, which is a strange combination of their two lives.

It’s a look at a Chinese culture that people outside of China might not be familiar with: one that is sensual, romantic, and endlessly inventive.


Shen Joe Ngo*
Yun Barbie Wu*
Elsie Jessica Ko*
Tom James Ryen*
Stage directions Thilini Dissanayake
*Appearing through an Agreement between ANPF and Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.


New York City, 194os.

Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes, no intermission

Audience Reviews:

 from 1 Listener
Playwright Image

Clarence Coo is the recipient of a Whiting Award and the Yale Drama Series Prize. His plays include The Birds of EmpathyBeautiful Province (Belle Province); People Sitting in Darkness; Chapters of a Floating Life; and On That Day in Amsterdam. His work has been developed at the Atlantic Theater Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, New York Theatre Workshop, and the Bay Area Playwrights Festival.

He has received fellowships from the Dramatists Guild of America, the Rita Goldberg Playwrights’ Workshop at the Lark, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Playwrights Realm.

He received his MFA in playwriting at Columbia University. He is a member of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab and an alumnus of New Dramatists.

Director Image

Jennifer Chang is a multi-hyphenate storyteller and educator who won the LADCC Award in Direction for the LA premiere of Vietgone by Qui Nguyen.

Select Directing: On Gold Mountain with LA Opera at The Huntington; The Great Leap by Lauren Yee at The Round House Theatre.

Play Development: O’Neill Playwrights Conference, Geffen Playhouse, Pasadena Playhouse, New Harmony Project, Center Theatre Group, Sông Collective, Artists at Play, Black and Latino Playwrights’ Conference, Theatre Mu, Chance Theater, Boston Court, PlayOn!, East West Players, Artists at Play and others.

Co-Artistic Producing Director of award-winning Chalk Repertory Theatre.

Upcoming Directing: The Heart Sellers by Lloyd Suh at Milwaukee Rep; American Fast by Kareem Fahmy at City Theatre.

Upcoming Playwriting: The Devil is a Lie at Quantum Theatre.

SDCF Fichandler Award Finalist. Director’s Lab West, Drama League NY Fellow, 2022 Beatrice Terry Residency.

Jennifer has a BFA from New York University and an MFA from UC San Diego. She is on the faculty of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.


Thilini Dissanayake
Thilini Dissanayake
Jessica Ko
Jessica Ko
Joe Ngo
Joe Ngo
James Ryen Play4Keeps
James Ryen
Barbie Wu
Barbie Wu

 from 1 Listener