Christopher Chen’s sombre piece explores how the writing of her bestseller The Rape of Nanking, about a mass killing in 1937, affected Iris Chang
It is a critical cliche to call plays disturbing. But Into the Numbers, by the Chinese-American playwright Christopher Chen, genuinely is. It explores the story of Iris Chang, who killed herself in 2004, seven years after the publication of her bestseller The Rape of Nanking. Subtitled The Forgotten Holocaust of World War Two, her book described a massacre in which Japanese soldiers killed 300,000 civilians and raped up to 80,000 girls and women in Nanking, China, during six horrendous weeks in 1937.
Chen uses several means of getting to the heart of the matter. The play begins as a lecture in which Chang sets out the basic facts recounted in her book. A subsequent public interview turns into a form of nightmare in which she is confronted by victims of the atrocity as well as by a survivor, a Christian missionary named Minnie Vautrin, who killed herself on returning to the US. The actor playing the Interviewer morphs into Chang’s husband, Brett, and also her doctor – both of whom seek, in different ways, to rescue her from acute depression.
Related: Obituary: Iris Chang