King of Yees: cluttered and confusing.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

King of Yee, courtesy of the NAC

 

 

King of the Yees is not the play that Lauren Yee set out to write — so says the character playing the playwright in the semi-autobiographical work. This is a hint that the comic drama could lack clarity. And it does. King of the Yees is about equal parts amusing and confusing and frequently seems to lack discipline.

The title character is the playwright’s father, Larry, a man steeped in tradition and committed to supporting his community, particularly through the Yee Fung Toy Family Association — a men’s club formed 150 years earlier — in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

From his 30-year-old daughter’s point of view, the organization is obsolescent, Chinatown is relevant only to the past and she has done her utmost to escape the traditional views it and her father and his loyalty to a multitude of past generations of Yees represent. She married a New York Jewish lawyer, is about to move to Germany, is uninterested in having children and never learned to speak Chinese. This works as a focal point for possible father/daughter conflict.

Then comes the clutter. Three characters (Actors #1,2 and 3) play Lauren, her father and an assortment of other characters. When State Senator Leland Yee — the man that Larry has supported throughout his political career — is charged and later pleads guilty to “felony racketeering, money laundering, public corruption and bribery,” Larry disappears and Lauren sets out to find him. (The California senator was actually sentenced to a lengthy prison term.)

Lauren’s journey takes her down the rabbit hole and along an odd yellow brick road of fantasy, lessening the impact of the story that might have been.

While it is unquestionably true that understanding the present comes from knowing the past and that the particular can lead to the universal, this mix of fact and fiction is so culturally specific, yet ultimately unfocused, that it ends in confusion. This is not to say that King of the Yees does not have some entertainment value. Director Sherry J. Yoon has maximized some very funny moments and there are some good performances, particularly that of Jovanni Sy as Larry.

The colourful design, complete with iconic red doors into a world of tradition, is effective. The breaking of the fourth wall with characters joining or springing from the audience works some of the time. Perhaps, if Yee had written the play she intended to write, the final product would have greater general appeal.

King of the Yees continues at the National Arts Centre to November 11.

By Lauren Yee

A Gateway Theatre production (Richmond, BC) at the NAC

Directed by Sherry J. Yoon

Set: Pam Johnson

Lighting: Gerald King

Sound: Stefan Smulovitz

Costumes: Mara Gottler

Technical director: Liam Kupser

 

Cast:

Larry………………………………………………………….Jovanni Sy

Lauren………………………………………………………..Andrea Yu

Actor #1………………………………………………………Raugi Yu

Actor #2………………………………………………………Donna Soares

Actor #3………………………………………………………Milton Lim


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