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DAVID HENRY HUANG’S ‘YELLOW FACE’, STILL RINGS TRUE AS ASIAN ACTORS CONTINUE TO BE IGNORED



The year that PARASITE won the Oscar for Best Film the green door was wide open for Asian Hollywood. Boom the door closed once again as Asians were bullied over the epidemic that shut down any improvements we made for Asian artists. YELLOW FACE may be a comedy but its theme remains solid in 2024.



Review by Vince Mediaa


Chanticleers Theatre opens their 2024 season with YELLOW FACE, a semi-autobiographical Obie award honored play by David Henry Huang. Now on stage for only three performances through March 17th at the Douglas Morrison Theatre in Hayward Ca. Directed by Max O Chang, he brings a talented cast of seven local actors to celebrate Huang's important political satire. Hwang, is best known for M. Butterfly, which premiered on Broadway in 1988 and won a Tony Award, the first one for an Asian American Playwright.  “What a better way to celebrate our (Asian) community with stories that reflect us” says CT Artistic Director Christine Plowright.




YELLOW FACE features the playwright as the protagonist. In this political satire, that presents a timeless question: What does it mean to be classified by ethnicity? Yellowface happens when non-Asian actors perform Asian roles on stage and screen. It might look like the application of yellowish face paint; it might sound like a vague Eastern accent. "Yellowface" is the result of 50's and 60's American theatre and cinema lack of Asian actors to cast at the time. Hwang’s autobiographical mockumentary play is very relevant in 2024. The Tony award honored “Miss Saigon” was a real life issue for Hwang who protested the casting of a white “A lister” actor who played an asian role. His protest was supported by Actors Equity and other groups, but the business end of theatre took the win and the issue was ignored. 




Hwang, is played by the polished Ben Yuen, who brings a terrific version of DHH. The playwright trusts us enough to air his dirty laundry, plunging us into a fast-paced first act. In YELLOW FACE DHH writes a play in protest to Asians being non cast, only to unwittingly cast a white actor as the Asian lead. “It’s about our country, about public image, about face,” says Hwang. The story moves along with an announcer played by the stellar Aiyanna Espinoza narrating and various characters reading newspaper headlines with publication dates. Ben Yuen fully embodies the playwright DHH, smoothly exhibiting Hwang's quick wit, his heated frustrations, and his loving mixed feelings for his father.




The confident Jacob Leder demands center stage each time he enters as Marcus, the Caucasian actor DHH hires, then fires for his “face value". Leder grabs your sympathy and laughs as a self-absorbed actor so proud of his really bad audition. The performance I saw the flawless Joshua Bao played David’s father Dr Wen Ho Le who brings engrossing charm and paternal support and pride to his son's career. David's father is a fan of his son's career and dreams about his own idols Jimmy Stewart and Frank Sinatra. The role featured Faustino Cadiz on March 16th and 17th.




Hwang has a brilliant way of manipulating the audience to laugh; then pull the rug out from under; introducing a very important message or serious scene. Yuen and Bao's heartfelt father-and-son scenes' really are the soulful core of YELLOW FACE. Bao and the other cast members play multiple roles, effortlessly switching personae and accents, the company is a pleasure to watch. The gifted Miranda Liu Sayer as Leah, the ex-girlfriend of DHH, who eventually dates the actor Marcus. Sayer's various roles, feature her hilariously mono-toned reading at the auditions, was very funny.




The clever Janelle Aguirre and all her assorted characters are fully realized, while giving her Jane Krakowski a nice playful edge. The skilled Connor Biondi morphs from an offended producer Cameron MacIntosh; to DHH's supportive producer; to a bully government interrogator grilling an understandably scared Dr. Wen Ho Lee, David's father. Boa again showed another keen faucet of his acting skills. Joanne Magano is featured in other roles, as the second act focuses on Marcus and David's conflicts. David and his dad have emotional moments as the story ends. Director Chang brings a warm spin to DHH script and keeps his actors moving and intriguing. The simple set by Ron Nelson features a yellow backdrop and office props to move the story. Lighting by Beth Crokrell featured follow spots that captured the warm moments with David's dad. Costumes by Annie Wang and Jamie Low featured a nice nostalgic moment with the KING AND I scene and kept DHH in a black sports coats. Stage manager Eleisa Cambra and her crew cued the seven member cast from all three entrances on the Douglas Morrison Stage.




The confusion around yellowface and the reality of being Asian-American on Broadway is reflected by the tribulations of being Asian-American in the Arts. Asians are still under rep in Hollywood and on Broadway. The year the Koren film PARASITE won the Oscar for Best Film; the green door was wide open for Asian Hollywood, and that same month Trump used racist slander against China and the Covid era. Boom the door closed once again Asians were bullied over the epidemic that shut down any improvements we made for Asian artists.  You need to see why David Henry Hwang deservedly won his third Obie Award for writing, YELLOW FACE. The show has one final performance March 17th the link for more information is below. 




CHANTICLEERS THEATRE PRESENTS

YELLOW FACE

By David Henry Hwang

Directed by Max O Chang

Artistic Director Christine Plowright


The play Closes March 17th

Performed at the Douglas Morrison Theatre,

 22311 N 3RD STREET, HAYWARD CA


Running time 2 hours with one intermission



TGHE

THE CAST


Ben Yuen, Jacob Leder, Joshua Bao, Miranda Liu Sayer, Aiyanna Espinzoza, Connor Biondi, Faustino Cadiz III and Joanne Magano




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