Reviewed by Emily Blake in the theatre criticism class of Patrick Langston
The National Arts Center’s presentation of King of the Yees, written by Lauren Yee and directed by Sherry J. Yoon, is a cultural roller coaster in 120 minutes. King of the Yees takes place mid-rehearsal, as actors Donna (Donna Soares) and Raugi (Raugi Yu) bring to life the story of the real Lauren and Larry Yee. All is going swimmingly until the ‘real’ Larry (played by Jovanni Sy) and Lauren (played by Andrea Yu) appear on stage and things start to become unapologetically funny. The audience learns that Lauren is also the playwright of this production and her aim is to bring to life the tales of a dying Chinatown and find understanding in her place within it. The cast of this cultural masterpiece know how to make audience interaction an integral part of the show, and they are not afraid to jump on and off the stage to make the audience feel as though they are in this too.
While the script can be questioningly random at times, with some jokes that push the boundaries of what is deemed culturally appropriate, King of the Yees speaks to the true identity of the San Francisco Chinatown and what it means to be a part of something bigger than yourself. The comedy was well received and the cast had the audience captivated for the whole duration of the show. What is important to recognize is how well this playwright and director were able to speak on issues of cultural importance and the real problems Chinatown faces on a daily basis. Issues like gentrification and selling out your culture for the sake of tourism in order to stay relevant are just a few of the many that are brought to light in this show. The simplistic set design (created by Pam Johnson) was a perfect backdrop to the storyline and allowed for the flow of one scene to the next- simple but effective. The audience was privy to a mix of new age costumes (Mara Gottler) as well as some intricately crafted Chinese apparel, such as the Lion Dancer and the Szechuan Face Changer. They added a layer of effectiveness to the storyline and combined Lauren’s ‘new life’ and her past in Chinatown.
Not only does this play serve an entertainment purpose, but it also provides a 120-minute educational experience unlike any other and allows audiences to be immersed in the underground realities of those who call Chinatown their home. Yee does a spectacular job making it easy to follow and learn something from the characters that you would not get in your conventional classroom. King of the Yees is not about endings, but about new beginnings and learning that your past is part of you and has a place in where you are headed next, even in Berlin.
Show runs October 25th– November 11th 2017 at The National Arts Center, Babs Asper Theatre
Purchase Tickets: https://nac-cna.ca/en/event/15932