KING OF THE YEES at Baltimore Center Stage - A Challenging Take on the Chinese Experience
I was so excited to see that Baltimore Center Stage had scheduled the Chinese inspired KING OF THE YEES for this season since my wife and I just returned from an enjoyable trip to China. I even wore my "Great Wall" hat which included Chinese.
The play by Lauren Yee and expertly directed by Desdemona Chiang was first done at Center Stage in 2014 as part of the Play Lab series used to introduce new work. It had its World Premiere in 2017 at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and has received praise by theater critics in LA, Chicago, and Seattle. The play deals with the same issue of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (now playing at the Hippodrome) ...that is TRADITION.
The play is autobiographical. According to Director Chiang, "KING OF THE YEES is a love letter to the Chinese community, a world that I often find myself trapped between familiarity and foreignness, affection, and alienation. It is about trying to understand where your parents come from, and in doing so, discovering your own original story...It is also a love letter to Lauren, Yee's father, who is truly one of the most joyful, eccentric and radiant dad I've ever known."
The play takes place in the country's largest Chinatown, San Francisco and deals with racial identity and assimilation in American immigrant families and explores the legacy of a changing Chinatown through the lens of a new generation.
The play opens with a conversation between a father, Larry Yee (wonderfully played by Stan Egi who was last seen at Baltimore Center Stage in A PIG'S VALISE) and his daughter Lauren Yee (the talented Khanh Doan) who plans to write a play about how Chinatown is dying. This Yee is a first generation Chinese-American, Yale-educated, who is about to follow her Jewish husband to Germany due to his new job. (I kept waiting for a connection between his religion and moving to the home of the Holocaust, but it never came.) Her father speaks in a thick Chinese accent as he describes his involvement with the Yee Fung Toy Family Association which formerly was a huge organization not only in San Francisco but in Chinese communities across the nation.
Yee was also very big in the political arena. He supported a Democratic politician named Leland Yee (no relation), who was elected to the California State Senate and speaks so highly of him. (This Yee would soon be found guilty of corruption and is still serving time in prison.
The actor playing Larry Yee soon loses his thick accent and reveals he's an actor in the play. The issues of stereotyping Asian actors are a big issue in the KING OF THE YEES. There's a comment that an Asian actor moves to LA and is never heard of again. Notice when you see a film or television series, there is ONE Asian.... never more than one. This is part and parcel of what the play is about. It's a play within a play and three other actors perform admirably, Celeste Den, Tony Aidan Vo, and Joe Ngo who last performed at Baltimore Center Stage in WHITE SNAKE and who I admired in the acclaimed VIETGONE at Washington DC's Studio Theatre.
There's much humor in the play and the audience often was in stitches. Fortune cookies literally fall from the sky. Did you know there are no fortune cookies in China and that it was Japanese immigrants who started the tradition? Actors seem at first to be in the audience and then appear on stage and join the festivities. The house lights come on occasionally for this.
But there are also some serious issues that are presented such as the rape of Koreans by the Japanese and the fact that Chinese were forced to live in ghettos called Chinatowns. Another true figure in the play is Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow (now serving two lifetimes in prison) and a highlight of the play is a gun battle sometimes in slow motion which the audience loved.
Other highlights include a wonderful "LION" dance and a Sichuan face changer.
Kudos to Scenic Designer Carey Wong, Costume Designer Chistine Tschirgi, Lighting Designer Jessica Trundy, and Sound Designers Brenan Patrick Hogan and Alex Hawthorn.
KING OF THE YEES may not be for everybody but if you want something different that is both funny and poignant at the same time, give it a try.
It continues at Baltimore Center Stage until November 18. For tickets, call 410-332-0033
THIS AND THAT
Catch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. to watch the Broadway casts of MEAN GIRLS, MY FAIR LADY, THE PROM, and SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL.
CBS on Thanksgiving morning will feature the casts of DEAR EVAN HANSEN, KING KONG, and HEAD OVER HEELS (featuring the music of the Go Go's.)
The popular PBS show Great Performances returns for a second year of its "Broadway's Best" series, complete with two musical theatre productions and two theatre-related documentaries. What do audiences have to look forward to? On the roster is a filmed version of the West End production of An American in Paris, the 2015 live UK broadcast of The Sound of Music, John Leguizamo's Road to Broadway, and Harold Prince: A Director's Journey.
An American in Paris
Aired November 2, 2018 at 9:00 PM ET on PBS and can be seen via vidorstream. Check your local listing.
Inspired by the hit 1951 Metro-Goldwyn Mayer movie musical of the same name that won the Academy Award for Best Picture, An American in Paris was a hit on Broadway in 2015. It won four Tony Awards including Best Choreography. Reimagined by director-choreographer Christopher Wheedon, with a book by Craig Lucas and stuffed to the brim with some of George and Ira Gershwin's most-sparkling songs, the musical was recorded live with its original stars Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild.
The Sound of Music
Aired November 9, 2018 at 9:00 PM ET on PBS
Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music is one of the most beloved musicals of all time, from its long-running original Broadway production that opened in 1959, to its 1965 Oscar-winning film version starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Now audiences will have a chance to see a new production, the 2015 United Kingdom version starring Julian Ovenden, Kara Tointon, and Maria Friedman. Check out the video stream.
John Leguizamo's Road to Broadway
Airs November 16, 2018 at 9:00 PM ET on PBS
John Leguizamo was recognized at the 2018 Tony Awards with a special trophy for his body of work. John Leguizamo's Road to Broadway is a documentary that follows this versatile actor-writer that follows Leguizamo's latest Broadway outing, Latin History for Morons. The documentary is directed by Ben DeJesus.
Harold Prince: The Director's Life
Airs November 23, 2018 at 9:00 PM ET on PBS
Who in the American Theatre has had a more prolific career than director-producer Harold Prince, the genius behind such hits as The Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Sweeney Todd, Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman (and myriad others)? With Harold Prince: A Director's Journey, theatre director and documentarian Lonny Price examines Prince's careers while conducting probing interviews with a wide variety of artists who worked with the master.
The Great Performances' "Broadway's Best" series will air on Fridays from November 2-23 at 9 PM ET on PBS. Each episode will be available for streaming on PBS.org the day after it premieres.