"The Dance and the Railroad," written by David Henry Hwang...

"The Dance and the Railroad," written by David Henry Hwang and directed by May Adrales is about two Chinese workers as they struggle with poverty and hunger to reconnect with the tradions of their homeland, starring Ruy Iskander, left, and Yuekun Wu. (2013) Credit: Joan Marcus

Before his Pulitzer-winning "M. Butterfly," before he wrote the books for Disney musicals and Philip Glass operas, David Henry Hwang made his mark as our theater's first Chinese-American voice. As part of Signature Theatre's yearlong Hwang tribute, we get to fill in valuable early blanks with "The Dance and the Railroad."

Written in 1981, the 70-minute piece uses ancient Chinese arts in stark contrast with the deadly, inhuman lives of those who dug the railroad through California mountains.

Yuekun Wu has a stunning, implacable serenity as Lone, kidnapped from the Chinese Opera school, who repeats the unspooling lyric and percussive exercises on an angular part of the mountain. Ruy Iskandar plays the gullible younger man who thinks the art will make him rich. The dialogue is jarringly modern and a little dull. But I could watch Wu dance all night.


WHAT "The Dance and the Railroad."

WHERE Signature Theatre, 480 W. 42nd St.

INFO $25; 212-244-7529; signaturetheatre.org

BOTTOM LINE Better dance and history than drama

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