King of the Yees, now playing at the Goodman Theatre through April 30, is full of laughs and wisdom. Both touching and endearing, the play - with themes of family, community and tradition - takes a look at one Chinese-American family’s attempt to bridge the generation gap.
Written by Lauren Yee and directed by Joshua Kahan Brody, King of the Yees features Lauren and her father Larry Yee as central characters in this off-beat, quirky, yet totally relevant production that explores the history of patriarchal family groups like the Yee Fung Toy association in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
“King of the Yees is only kind of true—just like the stories your father once told you as a child,” said Lauren. “Growing up, I never understood what the Yee Fung Toy – a club of Yees – was, or why people were a part of it. With this play, I’ve been able to explore not only my own self-consciousness within my community, but it’s also shed light on how that is a universal experience. With every generation, there is a feeling of being unworthy and being unprepared to take up the cultural mantle. In a way, this play is a hero’s quest that celebrates those feelings of inadequacy.”
Established hundreds of years ago, family associations were a way to provide resources and community in the face of the discrimination that so many Chinese-American families experienced. These mainly men’s clubs became very powerful over the years. However, as a new generation began to take its place in world, these groups that limited the roles of women among other things, were often viewed as obsolete and unappealing.
King of the Yees examines that waning influence and the emotional impact on families in a performance that is infectious, interactive, metaphysical but always heartfelt.
Larry Yee, brilliantly played by Francis Jue, is the gregarious and engaging head of the Yee family association, which is dedicated to the preservation of the Yee line. Lauren (Stephenie Soohyun Park) is dismissive of the purpose and necessity of such a club and to the surprise and dismay of her father plans to move to Berlin with her Jewish husband. A disappointed Larry suddenly goes missing and Lauren’s frantic search for him takes her to an abstract world full of symbolism from the past with lessons for the future. That journey leads her not only to her father but to a better understanding of the family association and the community and traditions he is trying to preserve.
King of the Yees is filled with a small but versatile cast (Daniel Smith, Angel Lin and Rammel Chan) who capably play a variety of roles during the two-act production.
The set design is simple but effective, mainly consisting of a large ceremonial door that is very significant to the storyline. Also, the use of projections on the back wall of the stage was very creative. The design team includes William Boles (set), Izumi Inaba (costumes), Heather Gilbert (lighting), Mikhail Fiksel (sound) and Mike Tutaj (projections).
King of the Yees runs through April 30 in the Owen Theatre at the Goodman. Tickets are available online at GoodmanTheatre.org/Yees.
Lauren Yee's new play at Victory Gardens Theatre is a refreshing addition to the modern canon of American playwriting, in the ilk of Sarah Ruhl and Noah Haidle. 'Samsara' was developed by Victory Garden's annual Ignition festival, a contest seeking minority voices.
Yee takes a meta-theatrical look at the world of surrogacy in turns of comedy and disturbing practicalities. The style in which this story is told is its most unique quality. With the prevalence of MFA playwriting programs, more often we're seeing stories being told in non-traditional formats. Sometimes that includes talking fetuses and our inner monologues manifesting themselves in character. Is this the future of theatre? If so, how exciting.
In 'Samsara' couple Craig and Katie (played by Joe Dempsey and Lori Myers) are desperate to fix the rut in their life with a baby, only they can't have one themselves and can't afford the myriad of domestic options. Instead they outsource to India, as so many corporations are want to do these days. Katie's fear of travel prevents her from going to India so she sends her bumbling husband while she stays home and has an affair with her fantasy man who happens to be a construct of her imagination. The factory surrogate, Suraiya (Ayra Daire) also seems to be in a bit of a rut, hoping to use her baby-money for medical school. She begins a relationship with her unborn fetus whom she affectionately refers to as Shithead. With all the unspent energy of an annoying toddler, Behzad Dabu as the fetus, gives the show's most lively performance.
On the whole, the plot and thematic events of the show are not unchartered territory but it's the way Miss Yee tells her tale that makes this an unforgettable experience. She has a special talent for incorporating the everyday with the fantastic, illuminating the deepest doubts and regrets of our minds in a way that's uplifting and topical. Perhaps Yee's interpretation of samsara is that everything happens for a reason in this cycle of life.
Samsara at Victory Gardens Theatre. 2433 N Lincoln Ave. 773-549-5788. Through March 8th.
*Photo by Michael Courier
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