Goodman Theatre and Centre Theatre Group Collaboration
Lauren Yee is an up and coming playwright. Her work is brought to Chicagoans through a collaboration between the Goodman and Centre Theatre Group.
King of the Yees follows the character Lauren Yee as she navigates her relationship with her father, Larry Yee. Larry is a funny, affable and devoted member of the Yee Fung Toy family association, a large civil men’s club that was founded on providing support to the early migrants to Chinatown, San Francisco. This is the oldest Chinatown in the United States.
Lauren doesn’t know how to talk to her father. He disapproves of her decision to remain on the East Coast, marry a Jewish man and move to Berlin. Lauren feels like an imposter in Chinatown but when her father goes missing after a scandal breaks in the community, Lauren sets out to find him. Through her harrowing and comical journey, Lauren discovers that her feelings about her childhood home are more complicated than she’d imagined.
The themes in Yee’s story are familiar—a second generation American-born daughter at odds with her parents’ beliefs and ways. Assimilation or acculturation? We immerse in questions of identity. Yee develops many thematic layers in her play, covering a lot of ground and each scene is rooted in and propelled by these themes. Her use of humor and levity balances the more thoughtful and, at times, uncomfortable issues she challenges the audience to explore.
For Asian American audience members, Yee’s play will affirm their experiences. The ideas of being too Asian, accent and all, or not Asian enough, and not knowing the language or customs, will resonate deeply for many.
When the characters are on their own and talk about what they have to do to make it as theatre actors, Asian Americans will laugh, recognizing how others often misperceive them.
Sometimes they don a fake accent. Sometimes they then hear, “Oh you speak such good English!”
Non-Asian Americans will get an inside view into what Asian Americans really think and talk about when in their own company. This play showcases the struggles Asian Americans often face to be accepted as the complex people they are, instead of the stereotypes that are forced on them. Yee also confronts the pressure she feels as a playwright from her own community to be their representative to the mainstream world. This is a role she does not feel comfortable assuming, because she feels inauthentic.
Regardless of whether you are Asian American or part of an intergenerational immigrant family, King of the Yees will resonate with anyone who has struggled to be accepted, find personal meaning and identity, and to measure up to their family and society’s expectations. Yee’s play is deeply universal and easy to access because she infuses joy and humor into the mix, as well as a willingness to skewer standard theatre tropes in unexpected ways.
Large red Chinese doors anchor center stage throughout the entire play, acting as a physical barrier and metaphorical foil. Larry tells Lauren that she’s a Yee and therefore should be able to figure out how to open the stubborn doors. She struggles and gives up. The doors loom in the background waiting to be opened. Yee also uses creative video imagery, joyful dance and music sequences and filmic slow and fast motion to engage the audience and move Lauren and Larry to find their way and to each other, and Lauren Yee to herself.
Larry Yee, played by Francis Jue, and Lauren Lee, played by Stephanie Soohyun Park, embody the tension between a father and daughter who don’t know how to connect. They talk but say little as the play ensues. Stephanie’s Lauren Yee is a “straight-woman”, subdued, embarrassed and assimilated into the dominant culture. Hers is the anchor around which the rest of the cast spins their wild and unrestrained personalities. She is the center around which the Odyssian journey is propelled. No easy feat to be both restrained and epic, but Stephanie Soohyun Park pulls it off.
Jue’s Larry Yee is boisterous and enthusiastic. The ever hopeful immigrant, though he was in fact born in America. His complete lack of a Chinese accent and deeply American sense of opportunity and constant optimism perfectly underscore the themes of the play.
The strong supporting actors, Rammel Chan, Angela Lin and Daniel Smith play an astounding raft of multiple characters, working seamlessly and with perfect comedic timing. Their portrayal of Chinatown elders, i.e. Greek Fates, is hilarious and rings true.
Rammel Chan’s portrayal of the ancestral source of all Yees, The Model Yee, is a hysterical study in diva entitlement and outrageousness. Angela Lin and Daniel Smith’s moments of backstage banter, as put-upon Equity actors, are rollicking and crowd pleasing, as they demolish the boundaries of expected Asian decorum. To watch five such remarkable actors is a joyful pleasure! Particularly, since their portrayals feel so true that the audience doesn’t see the actors anymore.
The King of the Yees explores the journey of a woman to find her father and to find meaning as part of a family and a community. It’s also about the simple act of telling one’s story because the act of doing so carries meaning forward.
Lauren Yee’s play is a revelation in its complexity and creativity, and audience members will ponder its layered meaning long after they leave the theater.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Thru April 30, 2017
170 North Dearborn Street
Chicago Illinois 60601
Tickets ($10-$40) – GoodmanTheatre.org/Yees; 312.443.3800; Fax: 312.443.3825; TTY/TDD: 312.443.3829
Box Office Hours – 12noon - 5pm; on performance days, the box office remains open until 30 minutes past curtain
MezzTix – Half-price day-of-performance mezzanine tickets available at 10am online (promo code MEZZTIX)
$10Tix – Student $10 advance tickets; limit four, with valid student ID (promo code 10TIX)
Group Sales are available for parties 10+; 312.443.3820 (restrictions apply)
Gift Certificates – Available in any amount; GoodmanTheatre.org/GiftCertificates
PHOTOS: Liz Lauren
About the Author:
Nicole Sumida is a founder and publisher of riksha, an Asian American literary arts publication. While originally a print magazine, riksha recently relaunched in digital form. riksha is currently accepting submissions at www.riksha.com