Because it’s so AWESOME? (Naturally.) Or because Yellow Face is so different for us, igniting interest, fascination and a galvanized sense of mission fortification? (“I thought I knew what the ‘J’ in Theater J stood for!” quipped Chinese-American cast member Jacob Yew during last night’s post-show discussion, beaming with pride that the play had landed at Theater J: “I guess it stands for Jacob!”)

Or maybe it’s because the author, David Henry Hwang—”the most successful Chinese-American playwright this country has produced” (according to today’s profile of Hwang in The New Yorker)—is coming to town tomorrow to take part in rehearsals, then participate in  “A Continuing Talk On Race” (or A.C.T.O.R.) at Busboys and Poets at 14th and V at 5 pm in conversation with  DC poet E. Ethelbert Miller and Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together) as the Chinese New Year meets up with the launch of  Black History Month, before  returning to Theater J for the 8 pm preview of Yellow Face and a post-show discussion where Hwang will reflect on the day, on the play, and on how it sets up the issues he’s pursuing in Kung Fu, the new dance show he’s launching Off-Broadway this month?  Yeah, I’d say that’s what’s lit a fire of real excitement for audiences; that, and everything else mentioned above.  Something’s very alive in this production; a sense of daring; a sense of the new; a sense of urgency for those who’ve been starved for this kind of irreverent conversation on a whole different notion of race.1800259_10152181345694883_439873320_n

We also have been the beneficiaries of some great pre-opening feature coverage.  So let’s offer a little media round-up before getting to our Student Subscriber Comments!

The Washington Post Express has a great interview with lead actor Stan Kang that came out yesterday.

Last Sunday’s Washington Post’s Art section had a front page double feature on the play as it covers the larger meaning of casting controversies in our still race-conscious age. And the article had a great Side Bar about the history of racial appropriation on stage and screen and on fashion runways and MTV Award broadcasts.

Finally, our director, Natsu Onoda Power, has quite the following in the world of alternative theater and performance art and she’s featured in this interview in Washingtonian Magazine.

WaPo3.94x5BWEager to read  comments!  What do YOU think of Yellow Face?

33 thoughts on ““YELLOW FACE” Previews Begin and is SOLD OUT THIS SATURDAY NIGHT! GUESS WHY!?

  1. Last night, Theater J and its’ performance, “Yellow Face” created a community. Together as an audience, we laughed, applauded, and most importantly, confronted issues of race, identity and culture. Tackling such issues of stereotypes and discrimination is by no means easy. But to do it using humor, is even more challenging. The usage of comedy in this regard is controversial to say the least, as it runs the risk of being disrespectful or crude. However, “Yellow Face” usage of comedy emphasized its main point of fighting discrimination instead of diminishing it. In fact, the laughter in the audience was so contagious, it made the play even more enjoyable.

    While I did enjoy the show, I feel as though I really enjoyed the post-show discussion with the actors. It was important to me, to hear how being apart of the cast of “Yellow Face” has impacted them. Stripped of their costumes and stage make-up, it was interesting to see the actors as just regular people, like us. So often after seeing a show whether it is a play or a musical, I have a hard time separating the actors from their characters. This discussion was helpful in that it allowed me to hear their struggles and their own voice- not just the dialogue that had been written for them to perform. From each of their experiences, you could tell how emotionally connected they are to this play. I found that inspiring.

    Cast member, Tonya Beckman, made an interesting point. She brought up a story of how she once performed in a play for the Deaf. In front of her, was a child, who throughout the play, used sign language to say, “me too, me too.” Not only was that a touching story, it brought up the issue of representation in the theater. So often, as Tonya also mentioned, we take for granted the portrayals and similarities we see between the actors on stage and ourselves. As a white female, I have never had difficulty identifying with a character on stage. So often I say to myself, “Wow, that could very well be me on stage.” Tonya made me realize that not everyone has the opportunity to say that… and quite simply, it’s just not fair.

    I commend “Yellow Face” for tackling such important issues in a respectful, yet humorous way. For the next 4 weeks, the actors and Theater J goers will get to participate in a very important discussion about race, identity and discrimination.

    • I think you make a very good point about the usage of humor in the show—it facilitated bringing the audience together with the actors and better emphasized the need to fight discrimination, partially, I think, by revealing how absurd it is. This brings something to mind, though: I wonder to what extent the experience of this show changes based on the audience. The script is very funny, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were groups of people in an audience who wouldn’t laugh at it.

      From my own personal experience, the audience’s reception of humor in a show can vary wildly from performance to performance. In the preview that we saw, the audience was very reactive to the humor in Yellow Face, but I’m curious whether this show will ever see an unresponsive or minimally responsive audience, and whether that will inhibit the kind of breaking of barriers the show is meant to promote. Humor brings people together, except when people don’t think it’s funny. I, personally, thought the show was hilarious, and that its humor contributed significantly to its success. But I’m curious whether there will be other audiences who don’t react the same way.

      • Chloe, I definitely agree with you that David’s father, Henry, really brought the play to life. Henry’s love of America was inspiring. Quite frankly, he showed more patriotism, devotion, and love to America than most born-and-raised Americans. Yet sadly, Henry also symbolizes the heartbreak of the American dream. He represents many of the trials and tribulations that immigrants face when coming to America. He had such a perfect portrait painted in his head of how life in America would be, yet things ended up disastrous when he found out that America did not love him back. I like that you label him “imperfect.” Because I think his faults, are what makes him so perfect and crucial to the performance of “Yellow Face.”

      • Chloe, I was also thinking about the question of different audience members. You make a great point about humor being contextual. I’m thinking of geography/demographics/ethnicity/etc. I don’t know much about theater theory, but it seems to me, that both audience and the actual performers play an active role. I don’t think of the audience as passive group of people, but rather actively trying to make sense of the play and its meaning. Personally, I didn’t get the sense that the play crossed over any boundaries, but I can see someone from a different ethnic or religious group not finding the play particularly funny.

  2. I had no idea what to expect with Yellow Face–all I knew was that it was about the experience of being Asian-American, and what that really entails. I was not expecting it to be so funny, and, frankly, I wasn’t expecting it to be so honest.

    Yellow Face is still in previews, and it was a little rough around the edges, but I was amazed with the way the actors left everything they had on the stage. Despite the initially rocky start, it was obvious that the entire cast committed themselves fully to the difficult racial and cultural issues the shows deal with, and managed to do so with humor and obvious honesty, even where that honesty was uncomfortable and less than flattering.

    Though I was very impressed with all of the performers, the standout for me was Al Twanmo as Henry Hwang, David Hwang’s father. I heard this echoed by other audience members after the performance, as well. His heartfelt and sincere performance took the play to the next level, from merely political to intensely personal. He was utterly believable and possibly the most sympathetic character in the show; he was imperfect in how he approached things, which made him human, but he still radiated goodness and honesty in a way no other character on the stage did. Twanmo’s performance was, I believe, much of the reason that the audience left the show thinking not only of racial politics, but of the identity of their own family, and what those bonds truly mean.

    The usage of the ensemble in this play was also outstanding—the use of quotes from papers and celebrities, as well as the constant switching of identity, had the effect of causing even more confusion about the labels and categorizations being used onstage to distinguish the characters from one another, or even to bring them together. Race, gender, persona, and background and changed at a rapid-fire pace, bringing even more labels into question than just that of “Asian,” or “Asian-American,” as the main plot does.

    One thing that surprised me about the play was the breaking of the fourth wall at the end, which is honestly a tactic I usually despise in stage plays. I don’t like being pulled out of the action in order for the playwright to tell me what I ought to think or how I ought to feel about something. But in this particular context, I actually thought it added value. Instead of coming off as preachy or disingenuous, it added to the raw honesty that carries the entire play. Without such a delicate hand writing the dialogue, it easily could have ruined the sincerity of the show, but instead, it allows for yet another level of soul-baring by David Henry Hwang (both the character and the playwright).

    I came away from the show impressed by the playwright’s courage in writing a show that showed him at his best, and at his worst. Most of the way through the show, I didn’t actually realize that the main character was the playwright. I think one reason that didn’t occur to me was because throughout a good part of the show, the protagonist isn’t very sympathetic. In refusing to answer Marcus’s calls and generally misusing the people around him, David is coarse and frustrating, or at least was for me as an audience member. As the character himself says, all writing is to some extent biographical, but to use your real name and be willing to show the worst side of yourself to an audience is a level of courage that, especially as an aspiring novelist, both floors and inspires me.

    Yellow Face isn’t a perfect show. The lines weren’t all delivered flawlessly and the kinks haven’t all been worked out. But, as Marcus says near the end of the show, “Nothing with real value, nothing human, is ever pure.” Yellow Face isn’t pure, but it is brutally, truthfully, warmly, hilariously human.

    • I agree with you that the play was much funnier than I expected it to be! I found the humor, especially in the first act, to be very seamless and not forced. The pace of the play was also exceptional. The constant change of locations, characters, outfits, and topics kept it interesting and allowed the audience to stay engaged with the topic. The semi-autobiographical nature of the show left me wondering which parts of the play were real and which parts were figments of David Henry Hwang’s imagination. When Marcus comes out at the end of the play, saying how he was not real, I was very surprised. Marcus added an entire discussion on race to the play, which made the father’s “American Dream” that much more important, especially when he is persecuted for his race and his dream is taken away.

    • I agree with you WHOLEHEARTEDLY re: the breaking of the fourth wall. I think that technique has been used too often, and in my mind it has taken on the status of a crutch. Directly saying “look at this big important point I’m trying to make!” has lost a lot of its effectiveness through simple overuse.

      I’m still trying to work out how I felt about the use of this technique in Yellow Face. Because the play was in part autobiographical, I suppose I’m more forgiving than I would otherwise be – it’s a play about a play, a story about a storyteller. Some level of meta is to be anticipated. I’m not sure if directly telling the audience that “HEY THIS ISN’T REAL” was my preferred method of being alerted to the real themes of the play, but in this case it did make me think – what implications does this have? Why did David Henry Hwang tell us, and not let us figure it out for ourselves? I think sympathy for the author – sympathy that was created as I watched his own created story unfold before me – allowed me to put off my annoyance and just take in new information, considering it on its own terms rather than through the lens of how it was presented to me.

    • Chloe, I definitely agree with you that David’s father, Henry, was not only my favorite character, but he really brought the play to life. Henry’s love of America was inspiring. Quite frankly, he showed more patriotism, devotion, and love to America than most born-and-raised Americans. Yet sadly, Henry also symbolizes the heartbreak of the American dream. He represents many of the trials and tribulations that immigrants face when coming to America. He had such a perfect portrait painted in his head of how life in America would be, yet things ended up disastrous when he found out that America did not love him back. I like that you label him “imperfect.” Because I think his faults, are what makes him so perfect and crucial to “Yellow Face.”

    • Chloe – I agree with your point of Hwang’s character not being particularly sympathetic. In fact, for many points in the play, he is blatantly wrong in his actions (like when he fires the non-Asian actor without ever giving him a straight explanation). That’s probably one of the most impressive aspects of the playwriting. Hwang steps away from how he would like to display himself to the world, and displays himself in a way that is realistic – including the good, bad and the ugly. The play benefitted from that immensely.

  3. “Yellow Face” achieved a perfect balance between seriousness, regarding issues of racism, and comedy, which is often difficult to do. The comedy exaggerates racial stereotypes to make it light-hearted, and this also draws attention to the stereotypes themselves. Then, other aspects of the play show the negative effects and seriousness of stereotypes, such as the U.S. government investigating the origins and past of Asian Americans in an act of blatant discrimination, such as calling those who donated to the Asian Pacific American Leadership Council, like when Rocco calls Marcus Gee to question him.

    There is comedy here because in investigating Marcus, the government could not be more wrong, since Marcus is white. In seeking to find evidence against Asian Americans, the government is spending thousands of dollars investing a man that is completely white.

    So, the play exposes stereotypes and shows the struggle of people who live as targets of these stereotypes. At “ACTOR: A continuing talk on race” at Busboys and Poets, Deepa Iyer talked about how struggles such as “flying while brown,” or “driving while black” can help different minority groups come together and relate to each other, because each suffers racism in their own way and can find solidarity. We see through “Yellow Face” that the Asian American community is definitely dealing with racism. Further, David Henry Hwang talked about the casting process and how 80% of roles go to white actors, so when a white actor gets cast for a minority role, he does not like that, though when a minority gets cast as a white character, he does not have an issue with that. So, the relationship between aesthetics, choices, and “race blind” auditions is seen.

    The play also subverts the idea of race as something that is definite and monolithic. Marcus, a white man, is embraced into the Asian American community and takes it as his own. He loves the community enough to expose himself as white, although this may result in the acting and theater community losing trust in him forever, since he had been lying about his race. So, this is an act of selflessness, and shows that he deeply loves the Asian American community, even though he was not born into it. Marcus even ends up defending and protesting for the wrongs against Asian Americans more than David does at the time when he is focused so much on his own self and pride. So, race and culture can be something that someone chooses in a way, contrary to the idea of race as something that is fixed.

    Also, I really appreciated the opinion of one woman audience member who said that during the first act, we were exposed to racism and stereotypes – the “typical” Asian immigrant family, the difficulties for Asian actors in finding roles – but since the play was so dynamic and “athletic,” the audience did not find a place to extend these stereotypes to; we were just exposed. Then, during the second act, we could reflect on them enough to place them in certain situations and on certain characters, leading us to understand the play as a whole.

    Relating again to her comment, my favorite part of the play was the constant movement, changing characters, wardrobe changes, lighting dynamics, and the “athleticism” as a whole. Therefore, I thought the parts with Marcus and David emailing slowed down the play in a bad way. The best and most skillful interactions, comedy, and messages occurred when the play was fast-paced, through arguments or conversations. The emails unnecessarily stopped this momentum. On the other hand, the lighting was used perfectly to create spaces when in reality there were not any. The stage was very open, and the only way we saw distinct spaces was through the lighting. It was also very interesting that people on phone conversations in supposedly different rooms would cross over into other people’s spaces – adding more to the motion and dynamics of the play.

    • Bridget, I really like how you talked about people being exposed to the stereotypes. To me, this is the most effective way of talking about issues like that. The part that I liked so much about Yellow Face was that it both presented the issues, but did it in a comical way. Sometimes, the best way to start a discussion is to let it happen organically, versus exacerbating the dichotomy of social stigmas and their inherent discussion barriers. This rift is usually brought about by forcing an issue at an audience instead of weaving it throughout a play, which was done in Yellow Face. It made the viewer think about the issues of race and identity in the current social state of America, as well as what actors should be playing which characters. The more objective the mission of a play seems, the more natural the discussion will be after the play’s conclusion; people will feel empowered — not bullied to talk about the important motifs and themes of the performance.

  4. The reason why Yellowface was such an effective play for me is because of the uproarious humor. Racial identity is a topic that can be both uncomfortable and isolating, but the manner in which this story is told allowed these issues to be addressed more fully.

    In terms of the actual play, I think the characters really allowed the issues to come alive. Personally, I think Marcus is what drove most of the plot and raised the most interesting questions. He was just looking for work, but it very quickly evolved into his new form of identity. The Asian community accepted him, and he did his very best to advocate for them. Did the community benefit from his presence, or were his actions insulting? I think that it was all left a little ambiguous. It wasn’t perfect, and in the personal eyes of some of people he interacted with, Marcus caused a lot of personal damage. Overall though, I think Marcus’ worth was proved when the New York Times reporter broke the news on his race and embarrassed the government for their targeted discrimination in terms of financial crimes, which benefited the Asian community on a national scale.

    One of the most important broader questions asked during the discussion was on who should be playing whom in terms of acting. Parallels for me were drawn to the current affirmative action debate. Should performers get the part because they look a certain way or should they be selected based on merit? The most current example that comes to mind for me is Jared Leto and his performance in Dallas Buyers Club, where he plays a transsexual woman. Leto is not a transsexual, but his performance has won almost every precursor to the Oscars, and seems poised to walk away with that as well. Did he deserve to play the role, or should it have gone to an actual transsexual? Sexual identity is as current of an issue as race. I think it depends on what people are willing to accept for entertainment, and which factors they determine most important when it comes to casting (star power vs. talent vs. complete character accuracy). It’s a difficult question worth discussing, as there are definitely no easy answers to a topic this loaded and steeped in opinion.

    • Garrett, I enjoy your discussion of Marcus, who plays a very interesting role in the play. It’s not common that a white character aims to become an Asian one, and his actions posed a lot of interesting questions. I also liked that Hwang left the answers ambiguous, leaving room for discussion.

      Something that goes along with your discussion of Jared Leto’s role in Dallas Buyer’s Club, is Tom Hanks’ role in Forrest Gump. I remember when I first watched the film in elementary school, I wondered to myself whether Hanks’ role might be offensive towards the mentally disabled. Ultimately, though, I think Tom Hanks did a brilliant job in portraying the character and the message of the film was delivered beautifully.

      The main controversy in casting roles with race, is the idea of blackface and yellowface. I can’t quite grasp why, but I feel that the use of either is so offensive…

    • Garrett, I agree with you that the manner of which the story is told is essential to how the story is perceived. In the case of “Yellowface,” the playwright decided to transfer his message through humor. However, it would be interesting to know, to what extent should a play on a serious topic rely on humor to convey their message? In the case of Marcus, I felt that his questionable identity was one of the main talking points of the play, but the audience was able to make our own judgments of the actions of Marcus.

      In today’s society there is a lot of controversy surrounding who should be able to play whom in particular roles. Racial identity plays a major role when selecting actors to play roles within the entertainment industry. Garrett, you raised interesting questions about whether actors should be selected based off of merit or due to their physical appearance. The questions that you presented can spark large-scale debates; I personally believe that it should be a combination of the two. Lastly, I don’t necessarily believe that sexual identity is not as popular during casting calls and hiring actors as racial identity. I enjoyed your analysis and brought up interesting points that I would have enjoyed to discuss during the post-show discussion.

  5. My favorite part about Yellowface was the discussion afterwards with the actors. An interesting point brought up was discussing the difference between a white actor (Jonathan Pryce) playing an Asian role (The Engineer) in Miss Saigon versus a Korean actor (Stan Kang) playing a Chinese role (David Henry Hwang) in Yellowface. Many of the actors agreed that both incidences involve an actor being excluded for a role based on their race. The difference, however, is that the first instance makes it harder for an ethnic group to get a job but the second allows marginalized groups to pursue more acting opportunities. I thought this was a valid point. There are infinite roles for white actors to fill because the theater has a long history of racial and gender exclusion. When the opportunity arises for an Asian actor to play a role, a Korean actor shouldn’t be excluded from a Chinese role because this would be another instance of discrimination.
    Another topic that was brought up was how the actors related to the play. A common theme discussed was how they originally felt the play was about race and theater. As they began production, however, they really saw how it was a tribute to David Henry Hwang’s father. I noticed this during the play as well. While it definitely discusses race and casting and other topics of the like, it is also a tribute to a father and the process of carrying on his dreams when he passes away. It is a common theme I think, and it was both beautiful and heartbreaking.
    Lastly, the funny point I noticed during the talk was when the actor who played Marcus discussed his ethnic background. He is Eurasian, and he noted the irony that he was cast for Yellowface to play a white man who is trying to pass as a Eurasian. His joke about a Eurasian playing a white actor playing a Eurasian made me laugh.

  6. Race can be a funny thing. “Yellowface” made this very evident Thursday night. Typically, the issue can also be confusing, rigid and difficult to talk about. It touches everybody, everywhere, in every era, yet I feel our society can be reluctant at times to have an open, frank, and honest conversation about it. Fortunate for those who stayed around post-play on Thursday and for those who attended A Continuing Talk on Race (A.C.T.O.R.) on Saturday, we were able to submerge deeper into what can seem like a bottomless topic. The comedic aspect of the play molded a hard-to-tackle issue into something more tangible and approachable, yet still in a profound way. I was so grateful to have the actors tell us what “Yellowface” means to them because it made the play become even more real. Their characters not only feel the effects of racial relations in the play, but each actor had an experience with it in his or her own life and acknowledged either his or her racial hardships or privileges.
    At A.C.T.O.R., playwright David Henry Hwang talked about the significance of expression through writing and said it feels like holding up a mirror to himself and facing his inner feelings. He pokes fun at himself in this play and acknowledged that it is unusual to talk about issues of race and culture with laughter. However, Hwang says in order to have an honest discussion about race, you have to be able to make a fool out of yourself. His use of comedy also points out that it’s okay to make a mistake when it comes to talking about race. I think his ability to use words and art to lift up stories of Asian Americans, and minorities in general, made this play so phenomenal and important to the continuing dialogue about race.
    Last, I really liked his comment that stereotypes take the “human” out of a person and reduce people and races to one and two dimensions. There is no good stereotype because it assumes that all people in a community are the same and takes away the diversity. Conversely, writing and putting our emotions into words can help us get to know people individually and give us a more 3D perspective.

  7. The power of humor throughout the play was an important way to relate to the larger community. As I suspect, humor is used in many cultures to often talk about difficult issues. In my own family, we often make a joke about issues that are either too serious or taboo. Breaking down racial stereotypes is no exception. This play made clear that racism and stereotypes still exist in our world, in specific, the world of entertainment. The conversation with the actors after the play was extremely fruitful. I appreciate the fact that we get this opportunity because it adds an extra dimension to the actors’ overall performance. It was impressive to know that these actors actually care about critical race theory and racial justice.
    The play certainly has a lot to say about multiculturalism. Yellow face uses characters like Marcus to both make fun of the concept while simultaneously appreciating the value of it. Marcus takes advantage of the “Syberian Jew” identity to drive him far into a world where Asians are not fully represented in theater, given the context of the Miss Saigon controversy. Further, the conflation of Marcus pride in his new-gained awareness illustrates a re-creation of the Self for the betterment of the world. Marcus is invested in issues and supports civil rights agendas/ organizations towards the latter part of the play. The play humorously indicates the possibility of Marcus becoming more Asian than DHH.
    One important element that I did want to touch upon was the play’s exposure of Asian American activism. Beginning with the Miss Saigon controversy, there were many Asian Americans organizing and protesting. At least when I learned about civil rights struggles in both high school and college, I only learned about African Americans and Latinos, but never about Asian Americans. This is an important gap that must be filled in all levels of education.

  8. Uri, I agree with yours statement: “The conversation with the actors after the play was extremely fruitful. I appreciate the fact that we get this opportunity because it adds an extra dimension to the actors’ overall performance.” I also am very grateful for the opportunity. I think the fact that we get to hear the actors present their own personal vision of the play and how race plays a role in their lives gives Yellowface more depth and meaning. It seemed like an amazing group of people, both onstage and offstage!

  9. One of the most frustrating things as an Asian American is seeing the portrayal of Asian Americans in Hollywood culture. Films such The Last Samurai and Tokyo Drift were particularly annoying to watch because the plotline revolves around a white male protagonist that immerses himself in an Asian art, then beats all the other Asians. I mean, come on. So you’re telling me that if some white guy comes along and tries to do something Asian that’s been around for ages, he’s going to be better than everyone else? Sorry, Tom Cruise, it’s not going to happen. Face it—you’re not a samurai. One of the few non-martial arts films featuring an Asian protagonist that was heralded by the Asian American community was the animated film, Up. Thank you Pixar for the half-Japanese young Wilderness Explorer, and we love you Russell.

    I could therefore relate with David Henry Hwang (the character) and his rather unreasonable animosity towards Marcus. Why should Marcus get all the credit? He can pretend to be Asian when it benefits him, but he can also remove his mask at any point his newfound identity becomes an inconvenience to him. Did he grow up being taunted for having squinty eyes? No. Did someone ever come up to him and yell “ching chong chang” just for kicks? Probably not. It therefore seemed unfair that he could play the role of a martyr for a community he adopted but from which he could dissociate at any point in his career.

    Yet this play goes beyond the simple notion that one’s identity is the one he or she was born into. I like that a lot. Using a great deal of irony and humor, “Yellow Face” challenged conventional ideas of race, and posed many questions that I had never previously considered. Maybe your identity can change with time. Maybe you can have a certain degree of leverage in choosing your identity. I also really enjoyed the discussion that followed the play, during which the actors shared their own backgrounds and their experiences from working with the cast of the play.

    • Michelle, I liked the message and the tone of your post. I can only imagine the frustration that emerges from watching Tom Cruise become a samurai extraordinaire via montage. This play does a great job of getting the audience to somewhat relate to the emotional state you expressed. I think we all felt a bit of satisfaction when Marcus discovered he was the subject of investigation. Hwang is creative in being able to take this frustration and turn it on its head when we see a character we resent experience racist scrutiny.

      Another example that I thought of (and I think is even worse) is the Kill Bill series. Here we have a white woman mastering martial arts. Nothing new, right? Well she’s not only relying entirely on Asians to assist in her every need, she’s using their services to kill A TON of Asians. Roughly 100+ Asians in two movies. Not cool. As much as I love Tarantino, this protagonist seems to perfectly exemplify why Asians and Asian Americans have a right to be upset with Hollywood on this issue.

  10. There was obviously a lot to think about in Yellow Face, as evidenced by the multitude of comment topics above this one. I suppose the thing that most captivated me in the show was Marcus’ emails to David. Those emails told a story within a story within a story, and the idea of such a deeply buried narrative appealed to me. So I spent a little time after the play analyzing them.

    Email 1: Marcus expresses his awe of the ‘big song.’
    Email 2: Marcus expresses his connection to the ‘big song.’
    Email 3: Marcus expresses his dismay in the constructed nature of the ‘big song’ (but seems to come to terms with it, saying that even if it is not spontaneous, its mere existence is still miraculous.)
    Email 4: Marcus joins in the song.

    Looking back on the play, I can see how the concept of the big song connects to the ideas of racial identity in the play. Racial identity is lauded and questioned and made fun of and decried, all within the same two-hour performance, but through the course of the play David Henry Hwang seems to go through roughly the same journey in regards to his race that Marcus does in regards to the ‘big song.’ First, he is proud and connected to it. Then he realizes the complexity of claiming an Asian identity – any identity – and begins to question his connection to the community (while still maintaining an appreciation for it). Eventually, he grows to accept the flaws within the community and makes his peace with it.

    Even the words of the song support the journey that David Henry Hwang makes in the show. “Get over yourself. This song is only doing what it has always done. Taking in voices from all the lands and all the peoples who have ever crossed its path. Though that road has been messy, it made this song. For nothing of value, nothing that lasts, nothing human is ever pure.” The messy, cluttered road that David Henry Hwang discovers and joins in Yellow Face was an unusual one – but it had value.

    • I think your analysis of the emails in the play is excellent. The song served as almost a narrative guide throughout the play, telling the audience what the play’s message at a particular moment is. At certain moments it is funny other times absurd. Eventually, the song shows Marcus’s realization that race is complicated and “not pure” but that being a part of a community can also be good if one realizes the flaws in that community and how it interacts with other communities. This play does an outstanding job forcing its characters, actors, and audience to step into the shoes of other races by portraying the characters in a connectable manner. I think that the song narration focused the ideas portrayed through the characters actions and dialogue and developed them into focused ideas that the audience could take away from the play.

    • Interesting that you found these so poignant, as the incorporation of Marcus’ emails was a point of confusion for me when viewing Yellow Face. I also noted each time one was used and in the scrawls that are my notes from the play – there are a lot of question marks. I found it curious why the play opens with one of his emails, and even after analyzing the pay and re-reading the script, they make little sense. I appreciate your conceptualization of a narrative deep within a narrative, especially considering that Marcus is revealed as a figment of David’s imagination, simply a character and not someone that David could legitimately correspond with. Following that interpretation, I would then view David and Marcus’ correspondence as a deeply seated internal dialogue that David has within himself and throughout his journey to find himself. Though the story originally seems to be about Marcus, the scandal and his newfound population, Act 2 very quickly transitions into uncovering that the play is more so an emotional release and expression for David himself.

  11. Yellow Face was a powerful play about the controversies and complications involving race. However, the most significant portion of the night for me was the discussion afterwards. As a white male, I was preparing to ask Brandon McCoy and Rafael Untalan what issues they faced throughout the play as the nonminority male members of the play and what they learned about how other races confront race. My question was going to focus on what non-minority communities can learn about race by seeing the various actors deal with racial problems. However, shortly after the discussion began I learned that Rafael has a mixed racial ancestry. This made me think about how fast we categorize individuals based on race. While this categorization had no negative connotations or thoughts by me, it does show how prevalent race is. It also made me realize that it may not be apparent what issues an individual faces and that each individual is a more complicated compilation of characteristics and ideas than what one can easily see.
    While the comedic writing was fantastic, this play was so powerful because of the actors. Based on the discussion afterwards, it is clear that each actor analyzed how race is significant to them and placed that into their characters. Al Twanmo’s delivery was excellent and I think his comedic portrayal of an elderly Asian man kept the show lighthearted enough to discuss the more complicated racial issues. Likewise, Stan Kang’s performance was very convincing and it was evident that he felt connected to Twanmo’s character as a figure similar to his father and to the racial issues in the play.

    • Ari, I too found the post-show discussion to be one of the most interesting portions of “Yellow Face” ‘s production. It was very interesting to learn What Marcus Gee felt about being typecast as an Asian although he was not of Asian descent. I was constantly surprised throughout the play as I watched Marcus Gee essentially build a life and career based on the false pretense that he was Asian. The fact however, that despite him not aesthetically appearing Asian he was accepted into the Asian-American community shows how American society has become more tolerant of those wishing to be a part of their community and moving past the notions of judging individuals based on their physical appearance. Finally, I was very impressed with Marcus Gee’s devotion to his new community where in order to stop the racially-charged investigations by the Senate Banking Committee he revealed that he was not Asian and cast enough doubt on the investigation to close it and allow the Asian-American community to no longer live in fear.

  12. Last night, after I saw David Henry Hwang’s play, “Yellow Face”, I was very impressed. This play was the first time I had seen a performance about the experience of Asian-Americans; my only prior theatergoing experience on the topic of Asian experiences was “The King and I”, which ironically was mentioned in “Yellow Face”. I was impressed with Mr. Hwang’s use of humor to explain his father’s view of the immigrant experience and how his father showed that his personal “American Dream of Hollywood stardom was not truly a reality but there were so many other facets of the American Dream, such as success through education which were a reality for him, and the Chinese – American community. As someone very intrigued by the various legal structures created by non-discrimination statutes, I found the discussion of the various anti-discrimination statutes which employers, such as David Henry Hwang, must abide by to be fascinating. The scene during “Yellow Face” where the necessity or non-necessity of having an Asian actor in the play, “Face Value” was very interesting to because many individuals do not take kindly to the concept of whites being cast in minority roles; as this may lead people to incorrectly believe that the play management felt that the minority actors are not able to be cast as actors of their own group.

    I also found “Yellow Face’s” portrayal of congressional inquiries into the alleged actions of Chinese Americans to assist the Chinese government in acquiring more influence over American affairs. As someone who is passionate about the notions of justice, I was saddened, but not surprised, to hear the various portrayals of US Senators concerns about potential Chinese influence, through the bank owned by David Henry Hwang’s father. To this end, the post-show discussion also piqued my interest as I had the opportunity to hear audience member’s portrayals of the similarities in experiences between Jewish-Americans and Asian-Americans. This post-show discussion also helped me gain a fuller understanding of the process that David Henry Hwang went through in producing his play and how many of the anecdotes in his play not only related to his personal life’s story but also the experience of Asian-Americans and historical events that placed that experience in context into the play’s storyline. Further, I was impressed that he chose to show “Yellow Face” at Theater J at the Washington DC JCC, which is not a theater that focuses on the Asian-American experience. Because of this, David Henry Hwang shows that the Asian-American experience is not unique to Asian immigrants but rather can be related to other American minority groups as well. The most interesting parallel that I gained from this discussion was the struggle in both the Jewish and Asian communities to be seen as white and the length of time in which it took to overcome these stereotypes, in part because American society and customs attempted to create a framework where Asian-Americans and Jewish Americans were seen as second-class citizens.

    • Daniel, I appreciate the relationship you made between the Asian-American experience in the play and the experiences of Jewish-Americans, and I believe that the play really shows the struggles that any minority group faces, so every group can relate to it. I also really liked that this play was shown at Theater J, as you mentioned. After the show, one of the actors joked, saying something along the lines of, “Theater J… I think I know what the J stands for.. Why is this there?” It is refreshing that this play is not limited to being performed at centers where the director or manager knows that there will be a large Asian audience, and I think it sends a powerful, inclusive message to the theater community as a whole. Important issues affect everyone, regardless of whether someone has a direct experience with them or not. Therefore, exposure to the issues is necessary, not only for the people in a specific group or with an invested interest, but to all people, in order to build a stronger community that recognizes the experiences, past, and struggles of others. Since we have been focusing many discussions on the importance of community, this was very nice to see.

  13. While watching David Henry Wang’s “Yellow Face”, I had a difficult time relating to the central issues being addressed in the play. I wasn’t surprised by this as I am Caucasian and have never experienced the Asian-American perspective for myself. But there were a couple of moments that helped me reach a level of understanding regarding Asian-American representation in theatre and the Asian idea of “American”.

    The first moment occurred at the beginning of the play. As Wang was going through a chronology of Asian-American history, an African-American actor took the stage proclaiming to be Senator John Kerry. My initial reaction was confusion, to say the least. “Why wouldn’t they just use a white actor?” I thought. I considered that this was simply for comedic effect, but then realized that there was more going on. The question I asked myself about the choice in actor was the same question being begged by Wang’s play: “Why use a white actor for an Asian role?” While it seemed trivial before, this brief instance helped me internalize this controversy.

    The second point where I was caught off guard was when the line “Yeah…but where are you really from?” was said. I found this to be funny like a lot of the audience members, but my friend sitting next to me (who is Asian-American) leaned over and said “I get that question all the time!” It seemed like a harmless joke in the play, but to know that people my age are still getting that question made me think about it completely differently. I got enough grief about my weird last name as a childhood, but to be questioned about my nationality on a regular basis would have been a whole new level of irritating for me. Luckily, my friend now has a sense of humor about this, but it still revealed to me how double standards can be so present in the life of an Asian-American.

    While I will never be able to fully empathize with these struggles, this play helped to adjust my perspective on the Asian-American experience. This had been an area of politics that I had never really considered, but Wang’s production vastly improved my awareness.

  14. My first impression upon walking into the theatre to see Yellow Face was the set. I had only been to one show at Theatre J prior to Yellow Face (Our Suburb), and then the set had been much more simplistic, so much so it was almost bare. The Yellow Face set, however, was illuminated, animated, intricate and enormous. I appreciated the way the set was integrated throughout the play and the viewers were constantly surprised by unforeseen doorways and drawers. Initially, I presumed that much of play would take place in somewhat of an office setting, as the backdrop was compiled of filing cabinets and outlined the stage as well. Though after the first act alone, I began to understand that the filing cabinets had a more salient meaning.

    As the play almost seamlessly transitioned from real time, to acting out scenes from the past, to a unique presentation of media and political commentary, the ultimate message of Yellow Face became more apparent. The piece highlights the irony of David Hwang’s actions in that he responds to a racially unjust play by writing his own, but firing the main actor because he was not “Asian enough.” Although he believes he is an advocate for breaking down ethnic and racial barriers, Hwang ultimately becomes somewhat obsessed with “filing” people into their correct categories and furthers the divide. He is outraged that Marcus is able to pass as an Asian-American, and mightily tries to put him in the correct category of being “a white guy.”

    Labels, categorizations and accurate filing systems are the most active topics conveyed through Yellow Face, and they ultimately spurred some interesting discussion from both the actors and the audience after the play. I recall once hearing the notion that as of the 21st century, racism is a thing of the past. While I do not agree with that statement, I think that the lines of race are becoming increasingly blurred. There are mixed children that do not know whether to identify as black or white, and as a result feel as though they have no one to relate to. How can one embrace both races, especially if they are in tension with one another? I believe Yellow Face points to some of the sheer ridiculousness that now factors into racial debates and people’s attempts at categorization – specifically in the United States. We proudly declare ourselves as a “melting pot” of ethnicities, races, religions and so on, yet even in a new millennium, we sometimes struggle to see beyond face value.

  15. “Yellow Face” took the American Dream and flipped it on its head.

    The numerous references to Miss Saigon and playwright David Henry Hwang’s feelings toward its politics were fitting; one of the musical’s songs is called “The American Dream.” It basically makes fun of the ideals that comprise the American Dream, causing audiences to question the value of living a so-called American Dream. Lyrics like “Bald people think they’ll grow hair” makes the American Dream seem more like a cheap shallow aspiration than the ideal for people in other countries to dream of.

    But the American Dream meant so much to David Henry Hwang’s dad. He praised Miss Saigon as being a beautiful story of what one woman sacrificed to go to America. It’s hard not to be slightly moved by his idealism for America.

    The American Dream is confused throughout the play. The idea is race is convoluted and even the most patriotic of the cast, Hwang’s father, is prosecuted by the government. I appreciate this play for the healthy amount it causes the audience to question what the American Dream truly is.

  16. Being part of the workshop edition of the performance “Yellow Face” was a noteworthy experience. This play struggles with the concepts of race, identity, and belonging to a particular community. Stereotypes and discrimination were key aspects that were illustrated through humor. The use of comedy was essential to the success of the play; although some parts are more comical than others, the comedy helped break the tension. The humor that was packaged within the show can be accepted differently based on the audience. One character however, Henry Hwang (David’s father) was easily relatable to me and proved to be a crowd favorite. Henry Hwang was not only funny, but he also developed a dynamic father-son relationship that was realistic and stressed the importance of legacy. Henry Hwang’s character helped to bring the issues discussed in this play closer to home.

    When I initially heard the tittle “Yellow Face” many thoughts quickly ran through my mind as a result of taking a Chinese History course last semester. Instead of “sugar-coating” ideas, this play was honest and blunt. The actors within the show have to polish their delivery and execution. I understand that the show has not been performed many times, therefore there will be mistakes, but all of the actors were passionate about their roles and success of the play.

    The stage set-up in addition to the props that were used was extremely unique. There were a lot of newspaper reading, phone calls, email reading, and shifting of character identities. These props added an additional element to the show; I did not necessarily enjoy the phone conversations. I viewed the phone conversations within the play to be weird, the first few times it happened. In some cases it was funny, but in others cases the switching between a phone and intimate conversations was distracting. I could be bias because I am not use to props being used in these types of ways therefore that could be why it threw me off at the start. The overall use of props was effective in changing the setting of the play and provided an alternative way of receiving data as well as personal messages.

    The performance Yellow Face is not a flawless production as of yet, but there is mechanism within it that I particularly enjoy. Within the show the fourth wall was broken, in order for the playwright to highlight the major themes of the show. The dialogue within this play attempts to be humorous, but it should be careful not to overlook overarching issues of identity, race, and the American Dream. The post-show discussion is a useful component that should be included every time this play is performed. The post-show discussion is a great way for the audience to digest what they saw because it was easy for factors to be overlooked. This play should always allow the audience time to reflect on what they just saw since the messages are so powerful if understood correctly.

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