Saturday, December 8, 2007

Theater Review: Yellow Face

that's right, i'm a city girl now. and that means i can go to the theater and write reviews of it.

ok, maybe thats not the "exact" definition of "city girl" these days, but i think my main point here is that i saw a play the other day and i thought it was good, and i feel like sharing.

so the play was David Henry Hwang's "Yellow Face," which I had not even heard of, seeing as how i never hear about things until someone calls me and tells me about them. but apparently its been getting rave reviews, and i see why. the play was autobiographical/fictional, which is already fun because especially if you're someone like me who didn't know anything about the story until you saw the play, you're always wondering which part is which. the basic premise is that after a controversy (not fiction) in which a white british actor was cast as one of the leading asian roles in Miss Saigon, the main character (who is based on AND named after the playwright) becomes involved in protests of "yellow face." things take an awkward turn for him, though, when he accidentally casts a white man as the leading asian role in his play that is supposed to be a satirical critique of yellow face. he manages to fire the actor, but the play flops anyways and the actor, Marcus, having finally found that feeling of acceptance he's always craved among the asian american community, uses that moment to propel himself into a career as an asian actor. and no one notices that he's white.

thats pretty much the end of the first act, and i have to admit that at that point, i was still confused. i liked the play, but i was having trouble connecting to it. act two really stepped up its game, though. act two brings you into the real-world moment in which wen ho lee was accused of being a spy, and fear of china was "in" ...again. the protagonist's father is being investigated for "suspicious" money transfers to his bank from a bank in beijing, and the white actor now calling himself "Marcus Gee" is at the forefront of asian-american activism protesting it all. the protagonist/playwright has a very powerful stand-off with an unnamed new york times reporter (if i knew more, it would be "obvious" who it was, but alas), and the play ends in a bonanza of meta moments (god i love those) in which the protagonist and marcus discuss their roles in the play.

ok so maybe that summary didn't make THAT much sense. i'm not an actual theater critic. i just wanted to give a summary in case it inspired you to go see it. anyways my point was, i thought this play was amazing. it was one of those things where as you're watching it you just have moment upon moment when all of a sudden you get exactly what the playwright is talking about. like the moment in the stand-off with the reporter in which David Henry Hwang asks why he is criminalizing chinese-americans, claiming that it would be like suspecting the reporter of being un-american and pro-white. "but there is no conflict between being white and being american," the reporter exclaims. bam. brilliant writing.

this play does a wonderful job of taking a number of relatively simple, unsurprising moments and revealing just how ridiculous and shocking they are, and their importance to the fucked-up nature of our society's issues with race. i could pretty much ramble on forever about how i enjoyed it, but the point is it made me think, so you should see it, because it will make you think too.

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