YELLOW FACE Postscript (#1) Appreciation From an Actual Siberian Jew!

As our thrilling production of David Henry Hwang’s YELLOW FACE has come to a close, we’re taking time to share some of the wonderful afterthoughts; an afterglow for a mission-enriching, artistically energizing experience for our company. Today we hear from Leo A. Orleans, a 91 year old spry and hearty theatergoer who identified with the play in a most unique way; seems the “fictional” character of Marcus Gee might not have been such a far-fetched notion after all! Leo explains…

I feel so fortunate that my wife and I managed to slip in to see the
last performance of “Yellow Face” at Theater J last Sunday. Actual Siberian Jew close upWe not only
enjoyed seeing this most amusing play, uniquely produced and played by
top-notch performers, but amazingly I discovered something about myself
that I  should have known. Apparently, David Henry Hwang, the
author of and actor in Yellow Face, had some difficulty locating an
Asian actor to fit an important role in this play he did some serious
research and discovered that all Jews who were born in Siberia have some
Asian (mostly Chinese) blood in their veins. As a Jew who was born in
Asia—Siberia to be exact—I was surprised that this fact was never
revealed to me by my parents, or friends, or books, or any other sources.

And wouldn’t you know, apparently I was the only Jew in the audience
with this background. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to meet David
after the performance and thank him for clearing up a lot of little
issues that have wandered around in my head for most of my 90 years. So,
I decided it would be appropriate for me to support his conclusion
without boring you with too many details.

Yes, I am Jewish. My father, Anton Yakovlevich Oriansky, was born in1890
in a shtetl near Bialastok when it was part of Russia. His father was a
weaver by trade and a “near rabbi” by avocation while grandmother sold
milk and took care of 4 boys and 2 girls, all 6 of whom—one at a time
and in the course of time—managed to migrate to America (most of them to
Sioux City Iowa!) I also have photos which don’t lie and a Hebrew Bible
published in 1836 and “approved by the Senate of the city of Orleans and
by Rabbi Jacob Abe Orliansky.”(Gey veis!)

My mother was born on the Volga River in the city of Simbirsk in 1893. In
addition to numerous photos of her family, the Russian Tsar himself
provided an official stamp that the Lev Agranovich, her father, was
Jewish.During his reign Tsar Nicholas sent out his soldiers to pick him
up—as all 13 year old Jewish boys—to serve in the army and convert them
to Christianity. My grandfather served in the Russian army for 25 years,
came out as Jewish as he went in, married a teenaged Jewish girl, and
had 15 kids.

Now that we have proof that I am Jewish you have to take my word that I
was born in Siberia and therefore, as David discovered, have Asian blood
in my veins.

I was born in the city of Yekaterinburg which is located in the Ural
Mountains that separate Europe from Asia. My mother was the 13th of the
15 children, I was born on June 13 1924, in house no. 13 which, most
importantly, is located on the Asian side of the street that divides the
two continents. Now here you either have to take my word for it or run
over there and check it out.I think it is still there.

And now to close this book. We managed to leave Russia before I was one
year old to spend the next 15 years in China; we left China for the
United States in 1939 after the Japanese invasion; I graduated from high
school in New York City; spent 3 years in the Army Air corps during WWII
(New Guinea, Philippines, Japan); graduated a university in California;
and eventually backed into a China career. I remained Jewish the whole
time and I doubt I would be so comfortable with my profession if I
didn’t have some Chinese blood in me.

Actual Siberian Jew


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