“Yellow Face” at Center House Theater

Fact or fiction which is it that informs our understanding of the foreigner? And when foreigners have a yellow face, how do we perceive them? Identity is at the center of David Henry Hwang’s provocative play “Yellow Face,” just as fact and fiction are intertwined in this semi-autobiographical work.

In it DHH (Moses Yim) leads the protest against “Miss Saigon” in 1990 because the production included a white man cast as an Asian. Years later he too cast a white man (Mark Tyler Miller) in an Asian role, not deliberately but by mistake. To avoid the backlash, he created a web of lies to justify the gaff. It’s not easy to get past the nuances of race.

Meanwhile as DHH struggles with his own racial dilemma, the nation addresses a number of scandals involving Chinese Americans. The most notorious concerned Wen Ho Lee, the Los Alamos scientist who was arrested and jailed for espionage. Later he was absolved of guilt. DHH’s own father, a successful and fiercely loyal American citizen was falsely accused of covertly using Chinese money to illegally influence the American political process.

Hwang’s play forces us to address the question of who we are as well as how we perceive others. He asks us why we consider “black face” off limits but think nothing about “yellow face”

Some theatre gets its power from elaborate sets and costumes or from musical numbers. Some theatre presents us with ideas, ideas so compelling that almost nothing else is needed. This is an idea play, yet Director David Hsieh has put in place some simple but effective staging to add to its power. A video screen flashing images pertinent to the plot line is mounted above the heads and to the side of the actors. Stark but stylish black marble blocks sit in front of a black marble wall.

Moses Yim as DHH captures all his anguish, all his pride. Mark Tyler Miller as the guy who has a white face but develops a yellow heart is an attractive theatre presence I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more.

Through July 29, “Yellow Face” presented by React Theatre and The Pork Filled Players at Center House Theatre, Seattle Center, www.reacttheatre.org.

Leave a Reply