Yellow Face Hilariously Explores the Complexity of Ethnic Identities
Written by Lillian Young   
Thursday, 18 August 2011 15:05

Henry Vu as HYH, Stephanie Kim as Dorothy and Moses Yim as DHH in a scene from ReAct and Pork Filled Players' Yellow Face. Photo: David Hsieh.“It doesn't matter what someone looks like on the outside.” Really?

There are numerous stereotypical portrayals of Asian, in which profiling Asians as sneaky, unreliable, or disloyal to America. Now playing at the Richard Hugo House is an unconventional stage mockumentary that based on the autobiographical experiences of the Awards winning playwright David Henry Hwang.

Intellectually-simulating and exceptionally hilarious, Yellow Face does not only touch on themes that seem larger than life but also hits your heart from the inside out.

This comedy of mistaken racial identity begins with DHH (the autobiographical “character” David Henry Hwang) protests against the casting of a white actor in a starring role of a Vietnamese pimp in Broadway musical Miss Saigon. Ironically, DHH himself accidentally casts a white man, Marcus G. Dahlman, as an Asian in the leading role of Face Value (the play written by Hwang that closed during previews on Broadway in 1993).

And this is where the whole “yellow peril” hysteria begins.

Nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee was under investigation for espionage, Asian Americans political contributors were targeted, and even DHH’s father was being accused of money laundering for the Chinese government. Yet no charges have been made to both Lee and Hwang.

As the plot progress dramatically, the strong advocate for Asian Americans, DHH comes to terms with his father’s death, re-discovering a whole new level of ethnic identities and how they are reflected in the media and politics.

Yellow Face in someway resembles the playwright’s own life events along with fictional scenes and quotations.

That said, what is real and what is false reflect the ambiguity of things that happened in the play, as in real life as well. The lines between what is authentic and what is inauthentic are so blurry that everyone has to live with inevitably.

The ever-changing definition of race, the search and loss of identity and dreams, and the concept of “face,” are themes that DHH and other characters have to explore.

In the play, DHH attempts “to take words like ‘Asian’ and ‘American,’ like ‘race’ and ‘nation’ and “mess them up so bad that no one really knows what they even mean anymore.” So does David Henry Hwang, whom constantly writes plays that deal with Asians and being Asian.

Hwang expressed that the writing of Yellow Face was a way to try to understand how race is played onstage.

David Henry Hwang appears at the post-play discussion. Photo: Lillian Young.“I am trying to understand or look back on the last thirty years of the growth of multiculturalism, and I played a role in that,” Hwang answered during the post-play talk back on August 13. “I wanted to write a comedy that was about some of the absurdities of multiculturalism while at the same time, appreciating it.”

Such thought-provoking message reminds us the complexity of what is happening now in America, and invites us to connect with ourselves.

Also to note is the excellent production team, featuring talented members from local theatre groups ReAct and Pork Filled Players. The seven of them amazingly pull off a total of 92 characters in the play where none of them feel out of place.

Simply put, the production is suspenseful, hilarious, and provocative in both its themes and ideas. Yellow Face runs until Sept. 3rd at Capitol Hill’s Richard Hugo House. For more info, please visit or or call 206-364-3283.


Biking Downtown

Lincoln City Oregon