YEE’S LOVE LETTER TO HER FATHER IS FINALLY STAGED HERE IN HER HOMETOWN, AND SAN FRANCISCO IS CHEERING LARRY YEE!
Local playwright Lauren Yee brings a true San Francisco love story featuring her famous father and Grant Street’s Chinatown. KING OF THE YEES is selling out houses on its short run at the San Francisco Playhouse through March 2nd. This creative take on a play within a play is truly refreshing and very entertaining. Bill English Artistic Director of SFPH says “(KING OF THE YEES) is very meta-theatrical, but with such warmth and affection for the Chinese-American community. I threw my hat in the ring to produce it immediately, but as Lauren’s star was rising nationally, it took some time to bring the story back to San Francisco.”
Lauren is pleased to finally launch her story in her home city “I always felt that my father deserved to have a play written about him—so who better to write it than me?” said Yee. “King of the Yees is a love letter to my family, and to San Francisco and its vibrant and historic Chinatown community. It’s an extreme honor to be back in my hometown and making art for the people I grew up with.” The play first worked out its previews and World Premiere not locally, but in Seattle, Chicago and Los Angeles.
The style of Yee’s work smashes down the fourth wall, and you are never sure if you are at a Yee Family Association open meeting or listening to Lauren's dad discuss the play. The accomplished Krystle Piamonte as Yee shares the story about her father. “I am Lauren Yee, and this is a story, a true story, about my dad, about dying Chinatown, and how things fall apart and how to say goodbye.” Sixty year old Larry Yee has been a driving force in the Yee Fung Toy Yee Family Association, an historic Chinese American men's club formed 150 years ago. It dates back to the Gold Rush when workers from China were brought to West Coast to assist in the building of the railroads leading to California Gold.
Yee and her father interact with the audience full of our Asian community members who are loving this San Francisco story. The terrific local favorite Francis Jue who is back in the Golden Gate after his successful role in Soft Power and Pacific Overtures. Jue is a charm as family head Larry Yee, and those who are lucky enough to interact with him during the first act will be overwhelmed by his infectious energy and bottles of water he hands to the front rows. Larry explains his daughter wrote this play for “them, the Jews” in the audience. The sold out mid week audience cheered Larry’s in your face politically incorrect charm as he names all of us ‘honorary Yees.”
Directed by the stellar Joshua Kahan Brody who brings a tight local cast of five actors to this colorful love story at the SF Playhouse. Lauren is an outsider from the millennials era of Yee’s. Larry continues the story showing off his love for San Francisco politics and dedication to Secretary of State, Leland Yee. The set design by Bill English is stark but highlighted by one of the famous Chinatown Gates or doors, that Larry explains only a true “Yee” can enter. The color of the show is the bright red and the spark of Sarah Nietfeld costumes on the slew of characters that cross the stage in Larry’s story. The King of the Yees (her father) suddenly goes missing, and Lauren goes inside Chinatown and the dark alleyways to meet some interesting characters including "Shrimp Boy" Chow, the famous Asian gangster.
The two actors Rinabeth Apostol and Jomar Tagatac who play actors who engage in an extremely funny scene about the challenges of Asian-American actors. A brilliant discussion leads to a tutorial on Chinese accents and body language. As in Yee’s other hits “Ching Chong Chinaman” and “In a Word”, she is brilliant, Asian quirky and a fresh, millennial vision of Asian America. 2019 is the year of #AsianHollywood, and the much needed attention of Asian actors finally getting the on screen and stage applause that has been missing. The direction is witty, fast with some cartoon type visual and audio effects. All the actors including the entertaining Will Dao are invested and expert shape-shifters. Mikhail Fiksel’s sound design brings character to set designer English’s huge gate to chinatown that only a Yees can enter. The lighting of Wen-Ling Liao is mysterious at times as the back alley atmospheres are keen.
Lauren's search for her father leads her down a rabbit hole into a fairy tale romp with Chinatown icons: including a dragon puppet that she dances with. Fortune cookies foreshadow frogs dropping from the sky; and the ghosts in famous Portsmouth Square tell her how much one’s age needs another generation. The two hour play is filled with humor, appreciated more by the Chinese Americans and ABC’s in the sold out audience. KING OF THE YEES comes off as a flash of Chinese iconic traditions and fairy tale beliefs. Lauren battles her past and her father’s customs.
This brilliant work has a fast smart pace, with visual eye candy, and revealing moments that bring cheers from a San Francisco audience. KING OF THE YES is madness Marx Brothers at times but filled with ethnic tradition, with family love and honor. Lauren, after her wild trip through the “looking glass”, finds that her dad Larry has much to offer and history to share. Yee discovers her past and longs for her father's approval and understands the Yee inside her between today and ancient customs.
This was a great way to celebrate Chinese New Year this season, and audiences agree with sold out crowds at the SFPH. Up next at the Playhouse is YOGA PLAY March 12th a Bay Area Premiere by Dipika Guha, Directed by Bill English and SIGNIFICANT OTHER a new comedy that opens in April. But in the meantime it is important to add KING OF THE YEES to your winter MUST SEE and bring your own fortune cookie and ad “in bed” to the fortune.
San Francisco Playhouse Presents
KING OF THE YEES
by Lauren Yee
Directed by Joshua Kahan Brady
MUST CLOSE March 2, 2019
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street, San Francisco CA.
Running time 2 hours with one intermission
Tickets are $35-$125, available at www.sfplayhouse.org
or call box office at 415-677-9596.
Photo’s by Ken Levin
CAST: Francis Jue as Larry Yee; Krystle Piamonte as Lauren; Jomar Tagatac, Rinabeth Apostol, and Will Dao as everyone else.
CREATIVE TEAM: Director, Joshua Kahan Brady; Scenic Designer, Bill English; Costume Designer, Sarah Nietfeld; Sound Designer, Mikhail Fiksel; Lighting Designer, Wen-Ling Liao; Properties Designer, Jacquelyn Scott; Stage Manager, Sarah Marie Selig.
KING OF THE YEES PROMO