“King of the Yees” at ACT

“King of the Yees,” directed by Desdemona Chiang, addresses two extremely important issues. There is the question of how Asian Americans fit in American society, and there is an examination of the inter-generational conflict inevitable within ethnic communities as generations assimilate at different rates. Playwright Lauren Yee deals with these issues with humor, humor that, for me, is a little too broad, too lacking in subtlety. That said, I must report that the night I attended this show the audience appeared to love every one of the laugh lines and set ups.

Director Chiang immerses us in Chinese-American culture from the opening moment of this play. It’s main character, Larry Yee, well played by Stan Egi, is the patriarch of the Yee family and a person of importance within his community. But even more interesting is the fact that he’s a man with eccentricities, drives, and a zest for life that make him a splendid stage persona. He’s a devoted family man, but the commitment to his traditional Chinese American community is the driving force of his life. A political crisis in Chinatown upends him but draws him closer to his modern daughter and causes her to reevaluate her relationship to her heritage.

Daughter Lauren, well played by Khanh Doan, is an assimilated woman. She’s married to a Jewish man and moving with him to Germany. She doesn’t even speak Chinese, and what is even more puzzling to her father is the fact that she may not want children.

Of course you know that Lauren will gain deeper appreciation of her father and his commitments as the play progresses. The play is too long, could do with some judicious cutting, but this is early in its evolution, and it will, no doubt, be pared down as it moves on to other theatres in other cities.

What shouldn’t be pared down is the Lion Dance. The Lion Dance is a traditional element in Chinese culture. Performed during the Chinese Lunar New Year, it spreads the blessings of the Gods to the whole community. On this stage both Annelih GH Hamilton and Joe Ngo perform it with extraordinary athleticism and skill. The costume is unforgettable. The lion’s gigantic head moves; his body is covered in rows of white “fur.” He has a beard, a tail, and can perform amazing feats. It’s the most impressive element of the production, and worth the price of the ticket alone.

So here we have good actors in a good production of a play that still needs some work, but has one outstanding feature.

Through Oct. 1, at ACT, 700 Union Street, Seattle, 206-292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org.)

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