“King of the Yees” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre Review - World Premiere Explores Cultural Divide and Familial borders

 

 

It all starts in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the home of the nation’s largest community of Chinese Americans. Two actors, Daniel Smith as Larry Yee, and Angela Lin as his daughter Lauren Yee, are on a bare stage solely dominated at center by the Imperial Chinese glossy red doors of the Yee Fung Toy, the obsolescent private social club for Yee men. They are interrupted and taken over by the “real” patriarch Larry Yee (Francis Jue), who is celebrating his 60th birthday, and his “real” daughter Lauren (Stephanie Soohyun Park).

 

 

From here on there’s a cleverly woven “play within a play” in which the “actors” and the “real” Yees take turns appearing in scenes shifting on and off stage. Larry (Francis Jue), charmingly engaging the audience, increases hilarity and absurdity by bringing an audience member, actor Rammel Chan, on stage and, though he has a different last name, embracing him as a cousin and member of the extended Yee dynasty.

 

 

 

Lauren Yee (Stephanie Soohyun Park) feels disconnected from her culture, has distanced herself from Chinatown and has never learned Chinese. She graduated college on the East Coast, married a Jewish man, and is planning to live in Berlin, Germany. Furthermore, adding to her father’s chagrin, she doesn’t want to have any children. She doesn’t identify with her father’s obsession with his ancestry, or his avid promotion, to various public offices, of Leland Yee—a political figure of dubious morals, who may or may not be a relative.

 

 

Larry has been a driving force in the Yee Family Association’s Chinese American men’s club, formed 150 years ago in the wake of the Gold Rush. Lauren questions the validity of both the archaic club, whose membership has been dwindling, and her father’s claim to be a descendant of the imperial figure whose image is briefly projected on the back wall.

 

 

 

Larry tells Lauren that, as a Yee, she should figure out how to use her special powers to open the imposing red doors of the Yee Fung Toy club that Larry is very involved in.

 

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When Lauren discovers her father is missing she goes on a search mission reminiscent of an innovative Alice in Wonderland down-a-rabbit-hole venture. If she’s to find her father she must bridge the chasm between herself and her Chinese culture and background.

 

 

 

Lauren encounters several obstacles to overcome; she must obtain some “free” items, perform an energetic and entertaining dance, and interact with a parade dragon and several other interesting entities. And, most important of all, she must discover her power to enter the elaborate red portals of the Yee Fung Toy.

 

 

In one short, hilarious scene, talented Angela Lin portrays the playwright Lauren, and morphs into a Korean actress. She gets coaching in perfecting authentic Chinese dialect from Smith, who confesses to being one-quarter Irish! Both actors are terrific in their brief but poignant appearances, gliding on and off the stage as the Yees!

 

 

 

Outstandng acting by Francis Jue and Stephanie Soohyun Park. Talented supporting actors Rammel Chan, Angela Lin, and Daniel Smith, effortlessly and seamlessly play multiple colorful characters in several entertaining and comedic scenes.

Award winning playwright Lauren Yee effectively uses whimsy, offbeat comedy, adventure, and surprise elements that take the audience on her journey of self-discovery, familial connections, love, and cultural heritage.

Great directing by Joshua Kahan Brody, colorful costume designs by Izumi Inaba, and creative video imagery by Mike Tutaj. Excellent results and effects achieved by the entire creative team.

King of the Yees” was written by Lauren Yee, directed by Joshua Kahan Brody and produced in association with Goodman Theatre

The cast includes, in alphabetical order, Rammel Chan, Francis Jue, Angela Lin, Stephenie Soohyun Park and Daniel Smith.

The creative team includes set design by William Boles, costume design by Izumi Inaba, lighting design by Heather Gilbert, sound design by Mikhail Fiksel, projections by Mike Tutaj, casting by Adam Belcuore, CSA and Erica Sartini-Combs, and dramaturgy by Tanya Palmer. David S. Franklin is the production stage manager.

Photos by Liz Lauren

The world premiere production of “King of the Yees” opened at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre on Sunday, July 16 and will continue through August 6, 2017.

Center Theatre Group, one of the nation’s preeminent arts and cultural organizations,

is Los Angeles’ leading nonprofit theatre company.

 

Tickets for “King of the Yees” are available by calling (213) 628-2772, or online here, at the Center Theatre Group Box Office at the Ahmanson Theatre or at the Kirk Douglas Theatre Box Office two hours prior to performance.

Tickets range from $25 – $70 (ticket prices are subject to change).

The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City, CA 90232. Ample free parking and restaurants are adjacent.

 

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