DramaWatch: A Wild Race with the Yees

Reconciling shared identities: “King of the Yees” by Lauren Yee, Profile Theatre. Photo: David Kinder

In his program notes for King of the YeesProfile Theatre’s artistic director, Josh Hecht, writes about “the complexity of navigating an ‘American’ identity and a cultural identity that may seem anathema to him”, a central issue in Lauren Yee’s play and one that Hecht connects to his own experience growing up. as a working class Jew from Brooklyn.

As a storyteller, the way Yee navigates here is reminiscent of a driver sitting in the back of a bumper car. Starting with a meta-theatrical self-reference – the playwright and her actors rehearsing the very play we’re watching – the action quickly veers in several directions, leaning here into tongue-in-cheek cultural satire, there into comedic political thriller, then gliding through vaguely supernatural realms in a tale of heroes’ quests, all halfway between anxiety and vertigo.

The direct line, however, is an affirmation of the need to reconcile these divided identities. In Yee’s case, it is a family identity shaped by his father, Larry Yee, a proud and devoted resident of San Francisco’s Chinatown, and a personal identity as an artist who distant from home in many ways – attending Yale, marrying a Jew, living in New York and even preparing to move to Germany.

The play we’re originally supposed to watch being rehearsed by a pair of performers, like Larry and Lauren, is about the decline of Chinatown, along with the Yee Fung Toy Family Association, a 150-year-old fraternal organization that Larry runs in his spare time. , as a symbol of hidden obsolescence. But this is very quickly interrupted by the arrival of the “real” Larry, whom the playwright considers a distraction, sometimes an irritant. Larry’s loyalty to a politician named Leland Yee serves as a symbol of his cultural short-sightedness, and then as the triggering point for the plot’s mad twist, in which Leland is engulfed in scandal, Larry disappears, and Lauren goes in search of her father – where, of course, she ends up.

To my knowledge, this is the third of Yee’s plays to be performed in Oregon, after the first of Cambodian rock band at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2019 and a PCS/Artists Rep co-production earlier this year of The Big Leap. I was thrilled by the hip energy of Cambodian rock band (which featured the music of Los Angeles band Dengue Fever) and by the moral complexities of its story of genocide and memory and reckoning. Conversely, I was mostly irritated by what I felt was poor attention to detail and general implausibility in The big jump, a story set in the midst of basketball and geopolitics that was also inspired by Yee’s father. King of the Yees sits somewhere in between, though much closer to the successful thematic achievement of the former. As loose as its structure sometimes seems, its imaginative variety is a winner – especially as directed here by the capable Lava Alapai – and after all its satire and silliness, it resolves with a surprisingly powerful emotional force.

There’s good work all around a cast of five, though Heath Hyun Houghton threatens to upstage in short order as the revered model ancestor of the Yee family – with, in this case, an accent. surprisingly sassy on the “model” part. And fine contributions from composer Joe Kye and sound designer Matt Wiens give the show a distinctly inviting atmosphere that never suggests Orientalist clichés.

With everything going on – from traditional lion dances to slow-motion gunfights to mysterious visitations – I found myself thinking more and more as the play progressed… August Wilson. Although many of Wilson’s chronicles of African American life include nods to the supernatural/spiritual, they are firmly grounded in a rich vernacular realism. Yee’s game is not. But what it shares with the whole of Wilson’s Great Cycle of the Century is its emphasis on the importance of ancestry and ethnic culture as the doorways through which to find one’s true home. identity, whether social or personal.

In this sense, Wilson and Yee suggest that the main step in navigating identity is simply to turn around and look back.


Jade McLeod and Lauren Chanel in “Jagged Little Pill”. Photo: Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman / MurphyMade 20222

“Jagged Little Pill”, the groundbreaking 1995 rock album by Canadian singer Alanis Morissette was a massive chart success (tens of millions of copies sold) and a cultural phenomenon whose aesthetic virtues have completely eluded me. . But then, her target audience was not snobby middle-aged rock critics (my lot at the time) but rather post-adolescent girls and young women with a right to be angry.

With these songs as scaffolding, Diablo writer Cody created the musical jukebox Little shredded pillwinning a Tony Award after the show aired on Broadway in 2019 – which received positive reviews from the most snobby critics.


Kristina Wong in “Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord” at La Jolla Playhouse, before her run in Portland. Photo: Jenna Selby/courtesy La Jolla Playhouse.

Last week’s article incorrectly suggested that Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord opened at the Portland Center Stage, well, last week. Mea culpa. Your careless DramaWatcher failed to notice that the main show pages on the PCS website’s date listing begin with the first preview performances.
Now fully settled, Wong’s acclaimed solo exhibit on the group effort — the performance artist’s pandemic response to organizing a brigade of volunteers to sew face masks — really opens Friday night.


Mr. Burns, a post-electric piece, Anne Washburn’s audacious and pop-savvy reflection on storytelling and its function in society, is set in a post-apocalyptic future where the fragmented collective memories of an episode of “The Simpsons” first become a form of full-fledged entertainment and eventually morph into something akin to a religion. Portland theater fans may remember a terrific 2015 run at the Portland Playhouse. Today, Catherine Ming T’ien Duffly directs a Reed College production.


Profile Theater King of the Yees at the Imago Theater Portland Oregon


Avenue PDX, the musical – an improvisational comedy show with puppets, inspired by Portlanders’ image as always weird (and, we’re guessing, by the hit puppet musical Avenue Q) – opts for a bit of an outside perspective, soliciting suggestions for its late-night audience from shore-dwellers at the Newport Performing Arts Center.


Plague! Plague! Story! The comedy! Photo courtesy of Oregon Children’s Theater Young Professionals Company.

Pestilence: Wow!, an incisive comedy about this hilarious outbreak of bubonic plague in 14th century France, was on stage in a production by the sometimes frighteningly talented young professionals of the Oregon Children’s Theatre. But it’s closing this weekend, just one more flash in the pandemic.

The flattened scene: theatrical edition

Third Rail Rep continues to be the local Portland host for NT Live presentations from the National Theater in London (due to time zone differences, presented here as ‘live-captured’ digital recordings rather than simulcasts). This weekend, screenings at Alberta Abbey of Anton Chekhov’s classic The Seagull in a production starring game of thrones star Emilia Clarke, plus a Saturday matinee of Richard Bean’s comedy Jack Absolute flies againafter William Brinsley Sheridan The rivals.

The Flattened Scene: Home Edition

A little Seagull– related homework, if you like:

The best line I’ve read this week

“I’ve come to think that maybe my childhood was happy mainly because it was childhood. in this world of their own making, that’s pretty good.Much of the rest is roulette.

Rivka Galchen in The New Yorker


That’s all I have for now. I will try to do better next time.

About Bernice D. Brewer

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