Written by 7:08 am Review, Santa Ana, The Wayward Artist, Theater

Yellow Face @ Wayward Artist – Review

PC: Dan Meyers

Written by Zack Johnston

The Wayward Artist theater company takes on David Henry Hwang’s autobiographical comedy Yellow Face at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana. Making his directorial debut, Aung Khine Min celebrated a packed opening night reception for this provocative play on race and the entertainment industry.

Story:

Hwang made history as Broadway’s first Asian American to win the Tony Award for Best Play for M. Butterfly in 1988. His writings on race and Western culture earned him success and gained him sway within the Asian American community.

Yellow Face is inspired by the controversial casting choices in the musical Miss Saigon, Hwang’s public opposition, and his subsequent ill-fated production of Face Value in 1993.

While Hwang decries the use of yellow face casting, he unwittingly engages in the practice when casting his next lead role in his attempt to address the issue. The events that follow make for a hilarious comedy that manages to contemplate the American identity and talk about the role of race in entertainment and politics.

Yellow Face may be set in a previous generation, but it still perfectly applies to today as we grapple with the same contradictions and competing narratives that muddy the waters of life in the US.

What’s fun in this show is all the blurred lines between reality and fiction. Hwang’s play takes viewers along a self-reflective, fictitious journey that feels perfectly based in reality. It explores our media wilderness and how it communicates with the public and itself.

Throughout the sheer comedy of the play, there is a slow unraveling of all the conventional ideas on representation and identity that sometimes lead people to make mistakes. While not minimizing the gravity of these mistakes, the play dissects the layers of humanity in them.

Acting:

Ryan Christopher Lee beautifully captures Hwang’s self-referential protagonist. As Hwang navigates, trying to conceal his blunder while staying true to his fight for representation, Lee displays an impressive emotional range, quick-witted humor, and intellectual charm. Lee illustrates Hwang’s turmoil with grace while leading this fast-paced performance.

Playing Hwang’s unsuspecting learning man, Marcus G. is Maxwell Kauffman, who effortlessly portrays the sense of arrogant innocence the character represents and is simply hilarious. An aspiring actor seeking his break, Marcus embraces his handed-down identity in a way that is culturally supportive but problematic in nature.

The impressive ensemble members each take on multiple characters wrapped in Hwang’s life, weaving their way in and out of the story. Each manages to create distinctly unique and funny characters while working together to drive home the message of the play. Henry Vu, Corey Linh, Tim Haig and Stacey Castigione are each a delight in their portrayal of characters ranging from alarmist politicians to acclaimed actor BD Wong.

Julie Amuedo is unforgettable in the role of The Announcer. As the threads unravel and Hwang’s actions start to catch up with him. The media takes on a character in of itself, and Amuedo delivers soft but booming introductions of various media figures perfectly in rhythm with the other actors and is a standout in her own right.

Set/Costume Design:

Costume design by Celestina Hudson takes a simple and effective approach at separating the various characters while allowing almost every performer to stay onstage at all moments.

The intimate scenic design from Kylie Baumbusch only heightens the humor and emotion in the production. A simple, versatile desk anchors virtually every scene and helps create a wide variety of settings, from an audition room to a dicey adult store.

The show incorporates creative digital projections designed by Baumbusch and Roberto Hernandez, with illustrations projected onto white panels that come together to paint a larger background image. The show maintains a steady, quick pace, and the projections seamlessly switch and keep pace with the dialogue. The imagery combined with sound design from Scott Garner fully immerses the audience within the story.

Yellow Face does not necessarily seek to find answers, but it does make us wonder if we really know the questions. Hwang’s journey exposes the more sensitive underbelly of American race relations and invites us to question our own understanding. Despite being mainly about differences, stories like this give us more reason to come together.

Yellow Face runs through Sept. 24 at Grand Central Art Center.

Review
8.9 Overall
0 Users (0 votes)
Story9.5
Acting9
Set & Design9
Costumes8.5
Entertainment8.5
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Excellent Show! OCR Recommended! Sep 15 -24,2023.

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